Movie review: Wedding Palace; and diversity in our media

poster_wedding_palaceOn a whim tonight, I looked at what movies were playing, and I was really not impressed with the selection. It seemed like a lot of badly done action movies next to sequels to movies I never saw (and though I’ve heard that the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was fun, the second isn’t faring as well in the comments I’ve seen from friends).

I very nearly ended up going home instead of going to a movie. I hate feeling like going to a movie in the theater but not having anything to go see. But hey, there is a new episode of The Master’s Sun to watch on Hulu/DramaFever, after all, and I have plenty of reading to do anyway. Before I resigned myself to a movie-less night, I checked the theater I pass by on my way to the subway just to see if there was anything interesting. Sometimes they play indie movies I might not have heard of.

Serendipitously, a movie I’d seen a preview for months ago via K-drama friends (or maybe DramaFever?) about a Korean American guy who meets a girl in Korea and tries to have a long-distance relationship with her was actually opening tonight. Like Austenland (which you should see if you haven’t yet!), it’s an indie movie whose wider release will depend on how well it does opening weekend. It got reviewed in the New York Times yesterday, but I didn’t read the review before attending because I didn’t want to be accidentally spoiled. Turns out it was a good review without any spoilers, so you’re safe to read that one. Check out the trailer:

Margaret Cho in a cameo as the shaman.

Wedding Palace begins with a wedding. Jason gets left at the altar when his bride, Jinny, runs off with the cake decorator. On her way out the door, she runs him over and he ends up in the hospital with multiple broken bones (and some massive old-school casts). Jason’s family thinks, “This is a sign! The family curse!”

That’s right, there’s a family curse, which puts a fun spin on the rom-com thing–the men in the family must wed before they turn 30 or they die, because one ancestor* canceled out on his bride sometime wayyy back. (The big-foreheaded cartoon style in the telling of the family curse was kind of jarring because I’m so used to Korean-style chibi (or whatever chibi is called in Korean), but it grew on you.)

And that’s where it all really gets going. Jason’s just a few months off from his 30th birthday and his parents are starting to get nervous. They start setting him up with any appropriate girl, but of course, the question is, what’s appropriate? The parents are portrayed as super traditional—they’re looking for high achievement, lots of money, traditional girl who cooks, that kind of thing. There’s this really awkward scene in which Jason’s best friend lauds how great the married life is to such a girl, because, among other things, she makes her own kimchi** and serves his every need (and talks to him in baby talk?)!

Jason decides to give up, and his parents get even more worried because family curse! But he can’t think about it now, Mom and Dad, because he has to work hard on a project he’s going to be presenting in Seoul the next day.

Seoul, you say?

Mom and Dad’s ears perk up then. He gets set up on blind dates in Seoul, too, including one with a girl who thinks “Dahmer was pretty cool.” Crash and burn. But as he’s sending off that drunk date in a taxi, he runs into a woman he met earlier that day during his presentation at work, Na Young. And the cute romance begins, contrasting first generation Korean American parents and grandparents who came over in the 70s against modern-day Koreans from Korea, suggesting that the former are actually more traditional than the latter.***

brianteeweddingpalaceAll in all, a cute rom com with a twist that you won’t see coming— after watching the trailer again, I realized that what I thought was a twist was actually in the trailer, so I won’t worry that’s a spoiler—but that you’ll realize was set up perfectly in hindsight. It has some flaws in the storytelling—moments that went on too long, that kind of thing. But it was funny and cute and well worth my time, and it was great to see a different perspective of Korean culture in the media than that of a Korean drama. I love dramas, but they have their own tropes and stereotypes, and most of them seem to have a particular point of view that is very different from the POV of Wedding Palace.

I must say, though, my favorite character had to be Halmoni (Grandma). First she has a heart attack when she learns Na Young’s secret, then she escapes from the hospital and convinces a couple of Latino guys in a car outside the hospital—in excellent Spanish—that she needs a ride to stop a wedding. SO CUTE. Watch the movie for Halmoni alone, even if a rom com isn’t your thing. And I love Margaret Cho in anything.

After the movie was over, the director Christine Yoo—this is her feature film debut—came out and did a Q&A, so I was pretty lucky to have run into this screening tonight! She talked about the challenges of making an indie movie, of finding the funding they needed and of finding distribution, of trying to get it into film festivals and not making it, and how this weekend was all-important to whether the movie would get a wider release.

I raised my hand and asked if she’d seen interest in the movie from K-drama fans, and she turned it around on me and asked how I’d found out about it, because she hoped that was the case! I hope that DramaFever fans are talking it up to each other–I’m going to go check after posting this.

And that’s where we get into the diversity in the media part of the post. Ms. Yoo is third generation Korean American, and a woman. She said that something like six percent of the academy of directors (or whatever it’s called—I missed the name) are women, and we’ve talked here and elsewhere about how bad representation is across the board for minorities in the movies and TV. She spoke of the opposition she faced at getting the film out there, that higher-ups questioned what kind of universal appeal a movie about Korean Americans and Koreans with an all-Korean cast could have in the US, and even tried to get her to cast the best friend as a white guy for that “appeal.”

Her experience reflects what we’ve been discussing over on the Lee & Low blog about the lack of diversity in TV that is revealed by the stark numbers in the Emmys. The idea that only the experiences of white people are universal, that somehow a movie about a Korean guy trying to hit a deadline to get married is less interesting than watching a white guy trying to hit a deadline to get married (and for lesser motives than knowing he might die).

It’s a problem across the board—not just in movies and TV, but in the Tony Awards, and—as we know—in children’s books. It’s why I started Tu Books, and it’s why Lee & Low is in business in the first place. And she spoke to exactly the thing we’ve been discussing across the L&L social media: If we want diverse media to happen, we need to be sure to support it. Word of mouth is supremely important, as is supporting a new movie like this in its first weekend so it lives to see another weekend. I’d also say the same for TV, books, etc.—which is why I’m giving Sleepy Hollow a few more weeks before I make a final judgement on it, because it really is doing great at the diversity, and it’s a very beautifully made show, even if it’s weaker in other parts. The more we support diversity by putting our money where our mouth is, the more of it we’ll see getting a chance to continue to be made—and the cream will rise to the top. Too often, Hollywood seems to have the idea that movies flop because “women don’t sell” or “minorities don’t sell” when they only give one movie a chance, but no matter how many flops starring white men, they never say “white men don’t sell.” So it’s an uphill battle and we can make a difference as consumers just by supporting the good ones—and even the medium-quality ones—with support, with word of mouth, and so forth. So this is me, doing what I can, and I hope that you’ll take a chance on this one. If not this one, then on The Butler (which I haven’t had a chance to go see yet) or Austenland or any other movie or TV show which might not make it without our support.

As I said above, Wedding Palace is only in limited release, so it’s only in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and a couple of locations in Hawaii this weekend. If you’re in any of those areas, be sure to go see it. If you’re not in any of those areas, encourage your friends who live nearby to see it so you’ll be able to see it in your location, and keep an eye on the website for announcements of where it might be next.


*well, not direct line, obviously, because he died before he had the chance

**I’m not sure the making-her-own-kimchi thing is all that different from most Korean women I’ve known from Korea who have been my roommates and friends, but maybe I’m just friends with more traditional people? After all, most of my Korean friends are Mormon, and Mormons tend to be pretty traditional about their cultures in many ways.

***Again, not sure how true that is more widely, but among the Koreans I know, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and Korean dramas (which are such a reflection of reality, I’m sure!) imply that there’s certainly at least a strong contingent of more traditional Koreans as well, though perhaps not stuck in the 70s, as the main character thinks of Korean Americans.

4 thoughts on “Movie review: Wedding Palace; and diversity in our media

  1. Wow! That was a great and very thorough review! Now I’m even more excited to see this…that is when it shows in Seattle!! I’m super curious to see how this will be portrayed in a Korean-American culture setting with Na-young as I’m a Korean-American AND a little person!

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Doris, the only thing I’d note, which I should have in my review, is that the actress herself is not a little person and I wish they’d cast someone who wasn’t so tall—that they’d cast an actual little person. They used a child double for her and used angles and such to do a fairly believable job that she’s just an extremely short woman, but the actress herself is quite tall, and there were occasions where I wondered someone who lives it might cringe. But I hope that even if it does make you cringe at some of the words people use when they find out she’s small (the “m” word comes up), that you’ll stick around to the end, because the movie does redeem itself as far as that’s concerned… I hope. I’d love to hear your take on it once you’ve seen it—I would love to know whether the good outweighs the problematic for you.

      1. I actually did know that the actress is not a little person! I love Kang Hye Jung (another reason why I wanted to see this film). And I was def expecting the “m” word would be dropped a few times in the movie… seems like I was right! I will definitely do a review on my blog as well whenever I do end up watching it.

        ps I forgot to note, love your blog!! fellow bibliophile 🙂

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