Today I watched a movie I hadn’t seen in 17 years. Back when I was single and responsible only for myself, I headed over to the Dupont 5 theater in Washington, DC, after work one afternoon and saw Combination Platter, an indie film about a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, New York. It’s a simple movie that made me think about a slew of questions, some to do with race relations and some to do with politics.
So today, after driving 45 miles round trip to the pediatrician’s office with my two younger kids, I put them down for a nap after lunch and watched Combination Platter a second time.
Hong Kong director and producer Jeff Lau does an amazing job as the lead character, Robert, who wants to stay in the US and gain legal status. He has two choices: he can wait five years for his restaurant boss to sponsor his green card application or he can marry an American citizen.
Robert meets a Chinese American woman and agrees to pay her $25,000 for a marriage of convenience, but she feels a huge cultural divide and asks for $50,000. Robert sends money home to his parents in Hong Kong every month and doesn’t have that kind of money. So his friend Andy talks him into courting a gweipor, or a Caucasian American. At first Robert doesn’t want to meet Claire because he can’t tell his parents he’s dating someone who isn’t Chinese (he lies to them and writes in his weekly letters that she’s Chinese-American).
Combination Platter is more than just the story of Robert and Claire. It takes a deep look at relations between many conflicting groups at the restaurant:
* the Hong Kong waiters and the mainland Chinese chefs;
* the sole Caucasian employee and his Chinese co-workers;
* the Caucasian patrons and the Chinese restaurant workers;
* the Chinese men who date Caucasian women and those who do not;
* the Chinese-American employee who doesn’t speak any Chinese and her Chinese-speaking co-workers;
* the US Immigration officers and the illegal immigrant restaurant workers; and
* the Caucasian American patron and his Asian American girlfriend.
Combination Platter was made with $250,000 and filmed at co-writer and director Tony Chan’s parents’ restaurant in Flushing. It’s not a blockbuster with action or violence, but it’s rich nonetheless with issues still very much a part of today’s society.