Dir: Anna Chi. US-Can. 2008. 94mins.

An awkward Seattle-set production about four middle-class, first generation Chinese siblings and their stilted relationship with the homeland as embodied by their deceased mother, Dim Sum Funeral owes an evident debt to author Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife) and would like to tap into a Wedding Banquet market but, despite some interesting Asian cast names, it will be hard to drum up interest in this film.

The main issue with Dim Sum Funeral - apart from its bizarre plot twist - is an uneven tone. It’s never clear here whether director Anna Chi is playing this straight or for laughs, and the cast looks very uncomfortable at all the wrong moments. The camera is grimly static and although set design from James Wilcock is spot-on, the uncinematic Dim Sum Funeral fails to ever come to life. It could possibly perform in a specialised arena - Chinese-American ancillary, cable in particular, where its soapy plot might prove a good fit.

Casting Bai Ling as the scantily-clad lesbian girlfriend of one of the siblings is a nice touch, but less successful is Talia Shire as a Jewish nanny-turned-housekeeper who is charged with assembling the four offspring of the late Chinese matriarch (Lisa Lu) for an traditional seven-day funeral in the family home. She never seems convinced either.

Lu’s name holds resonance as one of the first Chinese actors to cross over onto American TV sets, and another name from the past who followed a similar trajectory is Julia Nickson, who plays oldest daughter Elizabeth currently living in Hong Kong. As Nickson and Russell Wong, who plays her surgeon brother Alex, are Eurasian, and the other family members are Chinese - Francoise Yip as single mother Victoria, Song as lesbian actor MeiMei - there would seem to be some paternity issues at play here. Only one, however, is singled out in the ‘who’s the daddy” plot strand, and it isn’t the character you’d expect.

All the children have their issues. Alex is unfaithful; Elizabeth has lost her son and is separated from her husband; Victoria struggles to cope while Song amusingly wants to conceive a child with her girlfriend (Ling) and looks to one of the chanting monks at the funeral for some turkey-basting help.

Production companies
Reel One Entertainment
Dim Sum Productions

Clark Peterson
Tom Berry
Andrew Reimer
Donald Martin
Ray Cuerdo
Jeffrey Lando

International sales
Imagination Worldwide
(1) 310 888 3494

Donald Martin

Michael Balfry

Production design
James Wilcox

Main cast
Kelly Hu
Bai Ling
Talia Shire
Julia Nickson
Russell Wong
Steph Song
Lisa Lu
Francoise Yip