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The Cinderella tale gets turned on its multicultural ear in this romantic comedy about Grace, a Chinese-American investment banker who longs to move beyond her working class roots where her mother works in a sweatshop, and become part of New York's high society. Grace (Fay Ann Lee) is so serious about being considered the real thing that during her morning ride to work, she enlists the help of her cab-driving buddy Jamal, insisting that he quiz her on classical music. Her societal dreams come true at an Opera Junior Committee event, where she is mistaken for a Hong Kong heiress. In one night not only is she magically transformed into the old money socialite she dreams of being, but she also meets her Prince Charming, Andrew (Gale Harold), an assistant district attorney cracking down on sweatshops who also happens to be first in line to the Barrington fortune. As the two set off on a whirlwind romance, Grace, in true Cinderella fashion, dances around disclosing her true identity. Matters are further complicated when it becomes apparent that Andrew is not the eligible bachelor he initially appeared to be. As the characters search for fairy-tale love, the film takes an honest and revealing look at the polarizing issues of race and class in American society. It is only when the couple's true worlds collide that Grace learns what love in contemporary New York really means: embracing and accepting the unique values of her Chinese family's old world.
Director's Statement Collapse
I grew up watching and loving classic American romantic comedies: Working Girl, Pretty Woman, The Truth about Cats and Dogs. I identified with Tess McGill, Vivian Ward, and Abby Barnes, all underdogs trying to find acceptance in a world where they don't quite fit in. It wasn't until later that I realized that all my life, I had identified with non-Asian characters in these classic American stories. There were simply no Asian American Tess McGills in our cinematic catalogue that I could think of. So, when I decided to pen my first screenplay, I wanted to create the Asian "Tess."
When I first came up with the story of East Broadway, I didn't realize that what drove the plot of the film (Grace, our main character, wanting to be part of elite New York society) came from an event that happened to me at age 8, when I was singled out and shunned at a birthday party by the popular girls who thought I was not rich enough to be their playmate. I ended up by myself on the first floor of a penthouse apartment, while the rich girls all played on the second. Such are the hazards of growing up in a city-Hong Kong-that holds the record for the most Rolls Royce cars per capita in the world. It's amazing how a single event from childhood can inform and color the rest of one's life.
In telling Grace's story, I knew that New York Chinatown would become a vital detail in explaining who she is and why she aspires to become someone she's not. Chinatown is a fascinating New York subculture. A Chinese immigrant can literally plant himself in Chinatown and live the rest of his life within a one mile radius, without ever needing to speak English or step north of Canal Street. I wanted to examine what that could mean to a character like Grace, who sees beyond the confines of her own community. On top of that, she is continually influenced by pop culture and images created by the media and Hollywood. One of the major challenges I found as the writer and director was how to approach the role of Andrew. Being neither white nor male, I found myself writing a part that was actually far more stereotypical than I had hoped. When Gale Harold was cast as Andrew, I started to re-shape the role for him. Gale's honest delivery made Andrew a far more complex and interesting individual and, therefore, far more real. Through Gale's performance, we see that life for a rich, famous bachelor isn't perfect either. In fact, it can be quite painful at times. As perfect as Gale may appear, he captures Andrew's flaws masterfully: his inability to find happiness within his own world and stay true to himself.
Ultimately, East Broadway is a simple cross-cultural film with a universal theme of "wanting to belong." My little homage to the classic American romantic comedy.
Film Information Collapse
[EASTB] | 2006 | 98 | Narrative Feature
Directed by: Fay Ann Lee and Ishai Setton
Foreign Title: (East Broadway)
Language: English, Cantonese
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About the Director(s)Collapse
East Broadway is Fay Ann Lee's feature directorial debut. The screenplay was a quarterfinalist at the 2003 Nicholl Fellowship, a semi-finalist at The Chesterfield Screenwriting Competition in Los Angeles, and top three at the 2002 Asian American International Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. Lee produced and directed the short version of East Broadway and based on that, was invited to direct in New York's RipFest Short Film Festival in 2003. Lee's acting credits include: Miss Saigon, Joy Luck Club, Into The Woods. Lee is a graduate of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.