Seeking Asian Female - A Documentary (2013)
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli writes novels and screenplays.

The title of this heartfelt documentary—Seeking Asian Female—is not descriptive of the finished film. Rather, it’s descriptive of the original impetus for filmmaker Debbie Lum’s project, which evolved into something very different from what she had set out to do.

An Asian women herself, Lum starts off the film with recollections of her own personal experiences as a target of white men’s leering attraction, otherwise known as yellow fever. As an American women, she wasn’t amused by white men’s impolite staring and foolish pick up lines (in Chinese, Japanese or Korean, no less). This phenomenon, according to Lum, had always made her uncomfortable, or ever disdainful. Curiously, she married a white man, but still set out to find such men by answering personal advertisements they placed on the Internet and convincing them to speak on camera.

One of these men, Steven, opens up to her to an extent much greater than she had expected. An aging cashier at a parking garage, who lives hand-to-mouth in a small, cluttered rental apartment above a store, he shares his inner passions and romantic hopes on camera with disarming honesty, showing Lum the meticulous records he had kept of his years-long quest of seeking Asian females.

The result is a gritty documentary about a 60-year-old man in search of a young Asian woman to share his life with, and what happens when he finds a much younger Chinese woman and brings her to American. The camerawork is up close and personal, and the couple’s story is told honestly, fairly and without hiding the most unpleasant, or even ugly moments.

Lum commendably produced, directed and filmed this documentary on her own. She managed to gain Steven’s trust as he searched for his dream Asian woman, and then Sandy’s trust, as well, during the couple’s difficult initiation into a shared life marred by severe incompatibility and near poverty.

On top of this incredible fit of multi-task filmmaking, Lum managed to serve as the couple’s interpreter, mediator and lay marriage counselor. As the story progresses, Lum genuinely agonizes—on screen!—whether her evolving role as the couple’s on-call conflict resolution expert tainted her qualifications as an objective observer and damaged her documentary’s true-life veracity. Did she inadvertently stop Sandy from breaking up with Steven and returning to China? Did she unfairly fail to translate Sandy’s harsh statements for Steven and thus kept his illusions alive? Was she reporting their story, or manipulating it?

But what Lum does not seem to realize, at least not explicitly on screen, is that she herself has become an integral part of the story: A born American of Asian descent, by virtue of her unique acquaintance with both cultures, she is uniquely positioned to help this ill-matching couple to bridge the immense cultural divide between them and prove that love does have a chance–even against all odds.

In the end, through Lum’s incredible sincerity (both as a filmmaker and as an accidental yet true friend to Steven and Sandy), this documentary ends up redeeming all those pesky white men, who had always bothered Lum with their yellow feverish advances, by making an unlikely hero out of the movie’s quirky male subject, Steven. The other oft-mentioned, disdainful assumption directed at these relationships is that the women are motivated by desire for green cards, not for the men they marry. But as Lum’s unforgiving, always present camera shows, Sandy not only gives up her Chinese family and friends, her old life and freedom, her mother tongue and culture, but also gives Steven her heart. Truly. This is a wonderful documentary. Watch it!