Despite opening with interviews of white men looking for Asian women, Seeking Asian Female is about one white man, one Asian woman and one documentarian.
While Seeking Asian Female opens with a few questions about Asiaphiles, it addresses much more universal ones about cultural chasms, love and the art of documentary-making by examining a particular relationship.
Seeking Asian Female’s white man is Steven, a twice-divorced 60-year-old cashier at the San Francisco airport. He is nervous, talkative and shockingly honest.
He’s also immediately awkward. “Steven is making me uncomfortable,” camerawoman and director Debbie Lum says in voiceover as he compliments her “very Chinese” appearance and asks to take her photo.
Steven’s head-over-heels for Sandy (an adopted English-language name). She’s half his age and agrees to marry him — or at least come to the U.S. on a fiancé visa — after webcam communications but without having met him face-to-face. And while that sounds fishy, interviews show Sandy sees something unique and fascinating in Steven. But their relationship isn’t going to be easy.
And Lum is in the middle, an at-least-third-generation Chinese- American who learned Chinese on a trip there in college. Given Sandy’s grasp on English and Steven’s on Chinese, Lum is suddenly thrown into the fray.
“Last night Sandy found thousands of pictures of Steven’s ex-girlfriend Molly on his computer,” she says. “And now Steven wants my help translating their argument.”
Lum is the couple’s “on-call translator” in that argument and several others. Steven tells her Sandy said, “If it wasn’t for Debbie, I’d be back in China now.” If it wasn’t for Lum, indeed, it’s hard to imagine Steven and Sandy getting very far at all.
All documentarians care about their subjects. But should they care this much?
Seeking Asian Female screens at the First United Methodist Church on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 12:15 p.m.
This story is part of our complete coverage of BIFF 2013.