SAT May 1 7PM
Director's Guild of America
7920 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
310 289-2000
The People I've Slept With
American Centerpiece
(USA, 2009, 89 mins, HDCAM)
Directed by Quentin Lee
Exec. Producers: Tien Lee, Sam Kwok, Brian Yang
Producers: Koji Steven Sakai, Quentin Lee, Stanley Yung
Writer: Sakai
Cinematographer: Quyen Tran
Editor: Aldo Velasco
Music: Steven Pranoto
Cast: Karin Anna Cheung, Wilson Cruz, Archie Kao, Lynn Chen & James Shigeta
In Person: Cast & Filmmakers!
It may seem unusual to suggest that a rollicking sex comedy be considered revolutionary, but one could make the case that Quentin Lee’s THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH is just that. Karin Anna Cheung (BETTER LUCK TOMORROW) stars as Angela, whose unabashed sexual escapades lead to an unplanned pregnancy with an unknown father. With her biological clock ticking down 9 months, Angela has to trace her relationship history back to the contraceptive source. Conveniently, she keeps track of her conquests on postcards, with all relevant information included such as name, age, ethnicity and…length/girth.
What ensues is a flip around the Rolodex as Angela chases down the Ghosts of Lovers Past, including such notables as “Nice-But-Boring” (played with absolutely brilliant cluelessness by Randall Park), the excitable “Five Sec Guy”, and a few other (un)lucky bastards. She’s flanked by both her shrill older sister (Lynn Chen), whose sterile, Pottery Barn-perfect life contrasts with the chaos of Angela’s, as well as by Gabriel (Wilson Cruz), the gay best friend who transcends token status by pursuing a parallel set of romantic misadventures. Through all this, THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH delves into sexuality in a way that few other Asian American features have before. Wayne Wang’s adaptation of Louis Chu’s EAT A BOWL OF TEA (1989) was one of the first sex comedies, though in that film Russell Wong and Cora Miao’s prospects for carnality were always shadowed by the pressures of filial duty and burdens of immigrant histories. In contrast, Lee’s latest feature revels in a liberated sexuality unencumbered by either guilt-inducing moralism or disapproving parental figures. The fact that veteran actor James Shigeta shows up as Angela’s Peyote-dropping, aphorism-spouting father — easily his best role in decades — suggests how Lee deliberately tweaks expectations with a sly smile and wink. Call this his JOY F— CLUB.
Director Quentin Lee and scriptwriter Koji Steven Sakai keep things moving with a refreshing blend of modern urban situations, well-drawn supporting characters and old-fashioned romantic comedy conventions; even the typical “gay best friend” role is given a far more nuanced, believable tweak here, especially thanks to a winning performance by Wilson Cruz (My SO-CALLED LIFE). Comedian Randall Park (AMERICAN FUSION) adds extra charm as the clueless-but-willing “Nice-But-Boring Guy,” while none other than acting legend James Shigeta (subject of a prior festival retrospective, and Asian America’s first romantic lead) completes the circle as Mystery Man’s open-minded father. All romantic comedies are judged on their stars, however, and few films can boast as radiant a lead duo as Cheung and Kao, who bring a sizzling chemistry and screen presence that not only match, but also overshadow, the casts of any current Hollywood romance. It’s their performances that will truly turn heads here, and make THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH a proud new example of the romantic comedy tradition, and of powerhouse Asian American cinema.
After the heavy melodrama of 2004’s ETHAN MAO, Lee returns to the quirkier, subversively comedic territory of his and Justin Lin’s seminal SHOPPING FOR FANGS (1997). He’s never been shy in his willingness to shock his audiences, and with a movie whose subject matter is as frank as THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH, Lee especially seems to take special delight in stringing up any number of societal hang-ups around sexuality and then whacking them with a strap-on. Uptight wedding planners, the born-again virgin movement, the opium of suburbia – they all get their salad tossed. (He also has some classic, squirm-inducing moments too; let’s just say that not all DNA samples are collected with a cotton swab). Most of all, there’s an undeniable pleasure in watching how Asian American libidinal adventures are treated as something…ordinary, healthy and enjoyable. That simple acknowledgment, so rarely found in mass media, is itself worth climaxing over.
-- Oliver Wang