Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart Review

Wayne Wang’s second feature takes a more gentle Ozu-like approach to the lives of one Chinese-American family in San Francisco and is presented in a restored and reformatted UK DVD.

Wayne Wang’s second feature moves just a little further outside the Chinatown locations of his debut Chan is Missing, but identity issues are still a problem for the different generations of the Chinese-American Tam family in Dim Sum, the difficulty being knowing which traditional values to keep and which new ones to adopt.

One traditional value worth keeping, as Uncle Tam (Victor Wong) notes, is food, particularly when it is cooked as well as it is by Mrs Tam. Her dishes, particularly her Dim Sum, are not only delicious, but they have other properties, and can express the love and the wishes of the cook. In the case of the widow Mrs Tam (Kim Chew), it’s a desire for her daughter Geraldine (Laureen Chew) to be married to her boyfriend Richard, in a traditional way – but the younger generation are less keen to rush into such things. As Mrs Tam’s neighbour observes – everybody is busy, everybody has important things to do, but they don’t seem to appreciate the things that are most important. Mrs Tam however is making preparations for the future. Believing a fortune-teller’s prediction that she will die at the age of 62, she’s setting things in order, organising her jewellery and preparing to visit the homeland again, but she can’t be happy until she knows that her only unmarried daughter is provided for.

With Mrs Tam concerned about her daughter’s happiness, Geraldine reluctant to leave her mother alone, and Uncle Tam suggesting that he marries his sister-in-law to help sort the problem out, the situation does indeed resemble what Uncle Tam describes as “an old Japanese movie”. There’s a little bit of Ozu (referenced also in a number of shots), there’s a little bit of humour and certainly a little bit of heart, but it’s all also just a little bit dull.

The Disc: Drakes Avenue’s release of Dim Sum is, according to the PR a “new re-edited and unseen version, which has been reformatted from its original 4X3 release in 1985 to the copy seen on the DVD – Wang himself has edited it”. Since it seems that the intended ratio for the film is 1.85:1, I suspect that all this really means is that it is presented anamorphically for the first time. It’s certainly been restored and looks excellent on this release. The print clear and unmarked, if slightly soft from all the interior shots, and the colouration is very fine with strong black tones. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is strong and clear. The dialogue is a mixture of English and Cantonese – often within the same conversation, with fixed subtitles only for the foreign language words and phrases. There is one extra feature, Dim Sum Take Out, a 12-minute standalone piece presented as a fun and effervescent short. Featuring Geraldine and some of her Chinese origin friends wanting to be all-American girls, it certainly adds some younger generation colour to the main feature.


Updated: Aug 24, 2009

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