Published Nov 11, 2012I've always considered the term "yellow fever" to border on the realm of racial slurs, yet, apparently, it's widely used in North America to describe a Caucasian man with a clear sexual preference for women of Asian descent. And beyond men targeting Asian women at bars there is a large cross-section of folks utilizing Chinese dating web sites to find potential mates; something otherwise known as buying mail-order brides.
Director Debbie Lum's documentary, Seeking Asian Female, explores the obsession some white men have with Asian women, something she has first-hand experience with as an Asian-American that has encountered the various cat-calls and lame come-ons from white men over the course of her life. It's also interesting to note that Lum is married to a white American man, calling into question whether or not her husband used the same tactics during their courting period, which she never addresses in the film.
The film starts out by explaining the aforementioned politically correct-adjacent term and focuses on Lum interviewing a group of men to ascertain how their infatuation with Asian women has manifested. Over the course of the interviews, she encounters one man of particularly great interest—60-year-old Steven—leading the trajectory of the documentary to focus on this somewhat pathetic and oddly affable gentleman.
Exploring his backstory, this twice-divorced man is on a quest to find a Chinese bride, "dating" women from abroad for 20 years, purchasing gifts, travelling to visit them and spending an inordinate amount of time in front of his computer exchanging messages and photographs.
Lum captures it all on film as Steven sets off to China on his quest to marry the 30-year-old Sandy, whom he brings back to America to live with him as his wife. Tackling themes of culture shock and misunderstandings fueled by the couple not knowing each other's native language, Lum begins to mediate for the two as a translator. A dynamic relationship between the three quickly forms where they become dependent upon one another, calling into question the director's influence on the lives of her subjects.
Far more than the stereotypical concept of mail-order brides, Seeking Asian Female is a curious look at the world of racially specific online dating and analyzes the mentality behind the notion of seeking an Asian woman and what it represents in American culture.
More importantly, it is a fascinating case study that explores a documentary director's involvement with her subjects and questions how much, if at all, a director should become invested with those being documented.
Seeking Asian Female screens on Sunday, November 11th at 1:00pm at The Royal. (Independent)