The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

Victor Wong, Kim Chew, John Nishio and Laureen Chew in Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart.

Wayne Wang’s second film as solo director after his groundbreaking Chan Is Missing is quiet dramedy Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, now out from Criterion. Recalling the post-war works of Yasujiro Ozu, Wang filmed this movie about the relationship between a mother and daughter – played by real-life mother and daughter duo Kim and Laureen Chew – in the Chews’ house, steeping the work in that domestic setting. There are obvious tells that date the 1985 project: the jellies Geraldine (Laureen Chew) steps out of upon entering the house, the perms on most of the women, Geraldine’s BFF Julia’s (Cora Miao, Wang’s wife) reference to Betamax, and the scenes of San Francisco’s Chinatown as it once was. But there’s a timeless aspect to Dim Sum, given the themes of family connection it explores.

Thirty-something Geraldine and her aging mother Mrs. Tam (Kim Chew) live together and care for each other. The mother cooks for the two of them (and any other family/neighbors who may stop by) and Geraldine buys the groceries and brushes her mom’s hair. The love between the two is spoken through their actions. Geraldine feels torn between the marriage her mom is pushing her towards and staying in the house as her mom grows older. While Wang comments in the interview included with the Criterion BluRay that his Dim Sum wasn’t guided by one specific Ozu film, a thematic comparison to Late Spring seems the most obvious to this viewer. Instead of a widower pushing his doting daughter to marry, widow Mrs. Tam — convinced by a fortune teller of her imminent death — is putting things to rights as her expected last day comes ever closer…and this includes making sure Geraldine is set up with a partner.

Victor Wong and Kim Chew in Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart.

Along with the non-actor duo leading the cast, more recognizable faces Victor Wong (Eat a Bowl of Tea, The Joy Luck Club) plays Uncle Tam, bachelor brother-in-law of Mrs. Tam who hopes to marry her, and Amy Hill (TV’s “All-American Girl,” 50 First Dates) is Geraldine’s sister and friend. Bar owner Uncle Tam is almost a part of the household, sometimes staying over after meals. He’s also the one who enthuses about dim sum. A related note: most of the food in this film looks delicious, and Wang commented that Mrs. Chew would often cook for the crew after a day’s shoot.

Low budget independent Dim Sum centers themes that will remain relevant for the rest of Wang’s filmography, even his more commercial releases. I enjoyed seeing the chats between women friends and mahjong games that the director would later include in The Joy Luck Club, a film that holds a special place in my heart (Criterion release when?). Dim Sum revels in the quiet interiors and domestic setting of the Chews’ home, letting us into their world for a short period.

(L to R): Cora Miao, Laureen Chew, a quick Joan Chen cameo, Amy Hill, and Rita Yee in Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart.

The Criterion BluRay includes special features such as:

  • a new director’s cut (supervised by Wang) of Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, including previously unseen footage
  • a 2004 interview with Laureen Chew, where she shares that she was 35 during filming and differed much from the guilt-laden character she played. She speaks of her early doubts about how her relationship with her mom would appeal to audiences and later realization of the importance of such cinematic representation.
  • a more recent conversation between director Wang and filmmaker Arthur Dong. Wang discusses the silence used in Dim Sum (even though Mrs. Chew was operating a child care center in the house at the time of filming!), shooting in still-open San Francisco bar Li Po, working with a largely Asian-American crew, and the Ozu influence, among other subjects.
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