By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 13, 2006 at 5:08 AM
For the Chinese, to paint one's front door red is said to bring good luck, fortune and harmony to the household. In Georgia Lee's independent film "Red Doors," the Wong family front door is indeed bright red, although the luck it brings to the home seems a little less vibrant. The family is close, the love is obviously there, but it's been a bit buried, as it were, by years and years of, well, life.

Lee's debut is a charming character-driven narrative that follows the Wong family through a slew of major life changes, yet, for as smart and unique as it tries to be, it's hard to ignore the obvious similarities to Sam Mendes' "American Beauty."

It's packaged differently of course, but it's all there -- the American suburban family in subtle turmoil, the mid-life crises father (Tzi Ma) longing for the happy days of yore when his family laughed and smiled together, the dark wit and saturated cinematography.

That being said, it seems like overkill to focus so much on the symbolism of the red doors (as "American Beauty" did six years ago), although, to Lee's credit, she uses it effectively and consistently throughout the 90-minute movie and ties it into Chinese tradition -- something the film relies on heavily.

Oldest daughter Samantha (Jacqueline Kim) is the ambitious businesswoman teetering on the cusp of her "dream" wedding when she happens to reunite with her I-never-got-over-you ex. Middle sister Julie is coy, beautiful and completely preoccupied with medical school until she finds herself smitten for actress Mia Scarlett (Mia Riverton), who's been hanging around the hospital researching for an upcoming role. Baby of the family Katie (Kathy Shao-Lin Lee) is the typical disaffected high school senior tough girl with a penchant for showing her affection to boys via explosives.

With each daughter wrapped up in her own chaotic world and a mother (Freda Foh Shen) stuck in her traditional Chinese ways, no one seems to notice that dad is completely miserable after her retires. It's not until he disappears to a Buddhist monastery that the family decides to slow down and focus on each other -- something that finally brings upon the household harmony, however disjointed.

If this sounds like the heartwarming, feel-good movie of the year, it's definitely a contestant, but that's not to say that it's dotted with both whimsical and richly dark humorous moments that give it much of its indie edge, while being careful not to overdo it on the kitsch these types of films often fall victim to.

Something that sets "Red Doors" apart from its crowded genre is Lee's incorporation of her family's own home video footage into the film, making her debut, she says, "at once a fictionalized version of my memory and an ode to my real-life family."

"Red Doors" screens as part of the LGBT Film/Video Festival, Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at UWM Union Theater, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. Admission is $7 for the general public and $5 for students, seniors and campus community.
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”