By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 09, 2005 at 5:25 AM

{image1}What is love? What are the rules of love? In a traditional society, can one break free of the old ways?

First-time director Alice Wu explores these issues in her feature debut, "Saving Face."

Set in New York City's Chinatown (and in another Chinese neighborhood in Queens), Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is a young medical phenom on the way up at her hospital, where her boss, Dr. Shing (Louyong Wong), is also Chinese. But she's single and her widowed mom can hardly abide that.

So, Wil -- who lives in Manhattan -- is dragged to Chinese dances in Flushing and made to dance with all of the single men. Meanwhile, at least one of those men has designs on Wil's mother, played by Joan Chen.

Although she doesn't meet any men at the dances, she's happy to reconnect with a childhood acquaintance, Vivian (Lynn Chen), who is a professional ballet dancer whose forays into modern dance have left her parents upset.

But things really heat up for Wil when her mother -- who has been living with her parents, Wil's grandparents -- is tossed out of the house for becoming pregnant. Her father banishes her from her home and from the family, cutting off all contact.

No one knows who the father is and Wil's mother won't budge on that information, leading, of course, to endless speculation in the community.

When mom moves in, Wil's budding romance, which will also conflict with Chinese values, becomes weighted-down with the burden of secrecy, creating conflict and pain for her and her lover.

How can these Chinese-American women who live in modern-day America but within a community that still cherishes age-old traditions ever reconcile their loves with their lives and with the desires and dreams of their parents?

Wu's script is well written and the film is alluringly photographed and paced and features a few plot twists that keep things interesting. But most of all Wu's character studies draw us in and the performances of the principles are so passionate that we remain engaged. Only a few incidental characters draw away from, rather than add to, the energy and luckily we hardly notice them.

If Wu can build on such an auspicious debut, her talent ought to take her far. Let's hope the Hollywood fluff machine doesn't swallow her up.

"Saving Face" opens Friday, July 8 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.