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Catfish in Black Bean Sauce

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, the debut film, of Director Chi Muoi Lo (who also produced, wrote and acted in the film) is a quirky, emotional look at families and relationships. The intriguing title and the diverse cast of actors immediately indicate that you are about to watch a refreshingly non-typical movie.

Based in L.A., the film revolves around Dwayne (Chi Muoi Lo), the half-Vietnamese, half Chinese son of an African-American couple, Harold (Paul Winfield) and Dolores (Mary Alice), who had adopted he and his sister Mai (Lauren Tom) from a refugee camp. Although the family appears quite close and happy, the daughter, who never seems to have truly accepted her adoptive mother, finally finds her Vietnamese birth mother Thanh (Kieu Chinh), and brings her to America. Tensions follow as Dwayne, Mai and the adoptive parents are confronted with the various issues that erupt from her presence.

While Harold and Dolores are dealing with matters of loyalty and rejection, Mai is faced with false expectations and Dwayne is flooded with insecurities and confusion. Adding to Dwayne's c.plex family life are his relationships with girlfriend Nina (Sanaa Lathan) and roommate Michael (Tyler Christopher). His interactions with Michael provide funny sidebars that relieve some of the emotional turmoil of the film. In fact, there is a good deal of random, inane dialog (reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode) interspersed throughout the movie, including a series of humorous and serious flashbacks from Dwayne and Mai's childhood.

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce has several laugh-out-loud moments as well as many that might leave you teary-eyed. Although it's not a tear-jerker like The Joy Luck Club, chances are, you will get choked-up (if you are usually inclined to do so…). Luckily, the film strays away from melodrama and obvious racial/ethnic conflict; instead, director/writer Chi Muoi Lo portrays the multicultural relationships in a very natural, non-stereotypical manner. It's interesting that race is never truly an issue in the relationship between the African-American Nina and Dwayne until Thanh shows up, and even then the woman never points out that the girlfriend is black. .ple cultural blending within the film makes it all the more interesting.

For a first film, the director has done a good job. Some of the actors are a bit underdeveloped while others nail every scene. There's also a balance of emotion and comedy that keeps the film steady. Catfish in Black Bean Sauce is a great mother-daughter film; it's something a family can watch together. Although it's rated PG-13, you can definitely bring a child to see it (that's if their attention span can last long enough…).


Catfish in Black Bean Sauce
Rated PG-13
1 hour and 50 minutes

Chi Muoi Lo
Paul Winfield
Mary Alice
Lauren Tom
Kieu Chinh
Sanaa Lathan
Tyler Christopher