Among all the Asian-centric films I saw at SXSW this year, Single Asian Female was probably the most disturbing…and in a weird, creepy way, it was one of the most heartfelt.
Directed by San Francisco-based filmmaker Debbie Lum, the documentary puts “yellow fever” under the microscope, following a quirky white man named Steven and his search for an Asian wife. The thing is — Steven has had a thing for Asian women ever since his first divorce (he even flirts with Debbie when he meets her). His yellow fever dates back before the age of the Internet when he would flip through catalogs of Asian females — which were essentially mail-order bride catalogs.
With the help of the internet, he finally finds a Chinese wife named Sandy. She comes to America. She marries him…and then things happen. Good things. Fun things. Bad things. Weird things. Creepy things.
So yes, the “ew” factor is high with this film. As soon as I tell people about this movie (especially in the Bay Area) they tell me that they know a lot of guys with yellow fever. I approach the idea of yellow fever like I approach the movie Human Centipede: It’s very disturbing and disgusting, but at the same time, I am baffled by it like I am baffled by rhythmless people on the dance floor. I am especially baffled by it when it involves an older white man who seems like his full-time job is a clown that unintentionally scares kids at birthday parties. Steven fits this profile, but he’s not a clown. He works at the airport.
In any matter, when Steven marries Sandy (after only being physically together for three months), all seems OK, but then things start to go awry. First off, she doesn’t speak English, he doesn’t speak Chinese. So considering communication is a big part of making a marriage work, this is a problem. Secondly, she gets restless and starts to feel that marrying Steven wasn’t the greatest idea. Third, he is broke. He could barely pay for the wedding. To add to that, Debbie starts to get involved in their lives as a marriage counselor/translator. She starts to be more of a friend to the couple than a documentarian. Mix all of that together and it makes for an intriguing, off-beat love story.
In the very beginning of the documentary, you may be creeped out by Steven and write him off as a deranged loon who fetishizes Asian women. As for Sandy, you might see her as a victim, a woman who is lured by the evil white man so that he can live out his disgusting subservient fantasies. But as you watch the documentary, you may be surprised that, when it comes down to it, the movie is about an isolated, lonely man who wants to love someone and a woman who not only wants a loving husband, but wants to move to America for a better life. It’s a bizarre love story to watch.