Reviews: “My Wedding and Other Secrets” and “Living in Seduced Circumstances”

Two features screening Friday evening at New York’s Asian American International Film Festival are “My Wedding and Other Secrets,” a formulaic but well-made romantic comedy from New Zealand, and “Living in Seduced Circumstances,” a creepy thriller that is much more memorable, even if it does not successfully fire on all cylinders.

Director Roseanne Liang is a first-generation Chinese New Zealander who fell in love with a European New Zealander.  Given the hostile reception her parents gave her older sister when she began dating a non-Chinese, Liang kept her own relationship secret for six years before ultimately confronting her parents.  She then made an hour-long documentary about this experience.  Titled “Banana in a Nutshell,” the film was accepted to the New Zealand Film Festival in 2005 and has since won four awards.  Producer John Barnett attended the premiere and asked whether Liang wanted to turn it into a feature.  She jumped at the chance, and hired fellow Chinese New Zealander Angeline Loo to co-write the new script.  The result is “My Wedding and Other Secrets,” a semi-fictionalized rendition of Liang’s love and family lives.

This film is a romantic comedy with few surprises, but it is well paced and quite enjoyable.  Michelle Ang, who plays the Liang-inspired character Emily, is superb after the first few minutes, during which she tries too hard to act geeky.  Matt Whelan, who plays the boyfriend/husband, is generally credible, but is too emotionally reserved for my taste.  Although the film is definitely told from Emily’s point of view, one or two scenes that shows him interacting with his friends without Emily would have rounded out his character and made him more believable.  Among the supporting actors, Simon London, who plays Emily’s obnoxious classmate, and Cheng Pei Pei, who plays Emily’s mother, deserve special mention.  (Yes, she is the same Cheng Pei Pei who played Jade Fox in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and starred in all the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies in the 1960s.)  Cheng’s character should have been more developed in the first half of the film; that way, her tantrum at the dinner table would have been more sensible.

In contrast to the comfortable suburban setting of “My Wedding and Other Secrets,” Filipino American writer/director Ian Gamazon’s “Living in Seduced Circumstances” takes place in and around a cabin in the middle of the forest.  There are only two characters in this hour-plus film: Minh, a very pregnant young woman played by Quynn Ton, and Mr. Thanh, a middle-aged man who has clearly wronged Minh in some way but whose identity and deeds are not revealed until the powerful final scene.

During much of the film, Minh beats Mr. Thanh, drags him duct-taped to a wheelchair around the forest, and taunts him by shooting arrows in his general direction.  The eeriness of the film is heightened by the use of hand-held cameras, subtle manipulation of color, and the juxtaposition of extreme closeups, long shots and extreme long shots.  Even more effective is the use of alternately haunting and inappropriate music composed by Real Rice Production, Dimitry Lifshitz, Felipe Vassao and Phil Symonds.

“Living in Seduced Circumstances” is not perfect; some scenes — referred to as “chapters” in the film — are not as effective as others, and some were just a little too gory for my tastes.  Moreover, even in a fantasy world, it is hard to imagine how Mr. Thanh manages to survive some of the torture he endures.  All that said, I highly recommend the film, even though audience reaction will undoubtedly be mixed.  One might enjoy it as a thrilling ride, or think of it as an important ethical journey, or feel grossed out—or better yet, a combination of all three.

“My Wedding and Other Secrets” and “Living in Secluded Circumstances” screen at the Asian American International Film Festival on Fri., Aug. 12.  For ticket information, go to