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See You Off to the Edge of Town
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by Brian McKay

"Family road trips can suck in any language"
4 stars

What is the familial compulsion to love people that we can’t stand being around half of the time? Is the bond genetic? Or is it simply the result of being with someone for so long that you can’t help but love them – even when you realize that you have next to nothing in common with them? These are the questions that writer/director Ching C. Ip addresses, partially using her own familial experiences as a springboard.

The Kwan family decides to take a road trip from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, mere days before youngest daughter Maggie’s college graduation ceremony. While Mr. And Mrs. Kwan have never lived outside of China, they have worked hard to send both of their daughters to college in America. Maggie is the young pretty one, the slightly flakey free-spirit who has changed her major more than once and is dead-set on living overseas with her Indonesian boyfriend, Tommy. Since she met Tommy by responding to an on-line personal, her parents quickly dub him “the Internet kid”. Needless to say, they’re not thrilled with Tommy at first, or with the fact that he plans to spirit their daughter away to some tiny Indonesian island. However, while Ms. Kwan is a bit of a shrew that habitually harps on the other family members, Mr. Kwan is a tad more easygoing and soon warms up to his little girl’s new boyfriend.

Meanwhile, eldest daughter Jenny is the less-pretty but more stable career-driven type. The owner of her own travel agency, she spends half of the trip complaining about the lack of air conditioning, trying to get a signal on her cell phone, or stabbing away angrily at her laptop as she tries to tolerate her flaky sister and avoid strangling her nagging mother.

The closer they get to the Grand Canyon, the more setbacks they encounter. First Maggie’s car breaks down, forcing them to take Tommy’s instead (a converted hearse with a coffin full of beer, ice, and snacks in the back – which does nothing to help endear him to Mamma Kwan). Maggie gets sick from eating “authentic” Mexican food at a roadside taco stand and has to rest up at a motel, setting them back yet another day. And when Tommy’s car overheats and they are forced to push it down miles of desert highway to a gas station, only to discover it has long since been closed (though it is still inhabited by a helpful old man), the Grand Canyon may as well be on the moon.

But what’s that old saying? “It’s not the destination, but the journey?” The Kwan family’s misadventures are not without some laughs along the way, and a few run-ins with some colorful characters. But there are some heartbreaking revelations as well, as family secrets that have been kept for years finally boil to the surface, resulting in a bittersweet ending to their ill-fated expedition.

Although each member of the Kwan family speaks English with varying degrees of proficiency, most of their communications are in Cantonese and Mandarin. Yet amid some beautiful and haunting desert vistas, Ip has wisely inserted a soundtrack of Latin rhythms, giving the Kwan family’s journey a musical sentiment that is neither Chinese or American, but appropriately melancholy. Each cast member holds up their segment of this conflicted family admirably, and Ip effectively employs a keen sense of loss as the ties that bind slowly unravel.

The Kwan family’s journey is one that is identifiable to families from any culture, as it explores the border between where familial devotion and responsibility ends and individuality begins. Life goes on – with or without the ones who have stuck with you through it the longest.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8846&reviewer=258
originally posted: 03/09/04 17:18:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ching C. Ip

Written by
  Ching C. Ip

  Jo Chim
  K.K. Wong
  Zhu Xi Juan
  Yvonne Teoh

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