Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5 stars)
Fascinating not just for its intended subjects – Steven, a white man with Yellow Fever, and his soon-to-be Chinese bride, Sandy – but because of the struggle and change you see in the director and narrator herself. Debbie Lum is a third generation Chinese-American in the San Francisco area, and like many fellow ethnic Chinese here in the Western World, she’s sick of the creepy way white men fetishize her race. The documentary begins with her bitter bias, and though I’d normally think that works against a documentary…it’s what makes this one great. She begins the film seeing Steven as a complete character. He’s an old white man, divorced twice, and seeking an Asian female on online dating sites. His search is broad at first, but he eventually narrows his tastes down to a girl who looks “really Chinese. I mean, you can’t get more Chinese than that!”
Steven ignores Debbie’s request to explain what it means to “look really Chinese”.
The couple unites in the US and this is where the meat of the documentary takes place. Sandy, the woman from China, is a cute and lively person with a certain charm that won me over very quickly. I found myself rooting for these two to make it together. Debbie got suckered in too – once the fights began and Steven, who spoke zero Chinese, and Sandy, who spoke terrible English, asked her to help translate during an argument. And that’s when this strange relationship began between the three.
You really feel for Sandy. She’s all alone in the US, and though they said they were in the San Francisco area, it looked quite suburban and Sandy had no one to talk to in Chinese. She tries to be the traditional housewife, but miscommunication and culture clash plague the couple. Steven, whom I and Debbie suspected only loved the idea of Sandy (a traditional Chinese wife), grew before our eyes. His love was sincere, and he turned out to be an honest man who genuinely cared for his third bride.
Like Debbie, I’m also an American Born Chinese who’s with a white man, and part of what made this so interesting to me too was watching “Seeking Asian Female” with my boyfriend at my side. His perspective, as a 29 year old white male from the Mid West, was that a “mail-order bride from China” (which is slightly off from what she actually is) would be some ditzy girl that couldn’t figure out a better way to sustain herself in life other than marrying a stranger. He thought Sandy would be naiive and rather simple, but this “country mouse” turned out to be a highly intelligent woman with her own schemes. Some of the things she does in “Seeking Asian Female” looks one way, then is revealed as an ‘ah-ha!’ moment later. “Clever girl,” I’d think and smirk. I’d like to be her friend. The more I learned about her history, the more I found her admirable. There were a few other moments that served as interesting talking points between me and my boyfriend, but I can’t quite recall them now :(
All in all, this documentary had great people in it. Steven and Sandy’s problems as a couple were problems that ANY couple of any race would have. Sure, there is the added difficulty of language issues, but how many of us have dated and had miscommunication problems? Even when both parties speak fluent English! All their issues were issues I have had myself, or my friends have had. Steven and Sandy went from being caricatures to extremely relatable, and I was very happy to see Debbie herself evolve and widen her view on the couple as time progressed. OH, and one more thing!! Despite Debbie serving as translator, there are times when I wonder how well she actually did that – her Mandarin is pretty awful! I can sympathize since mine isn’t great either, but man, I do hope the couple relied more on Sherlock (a software that does translations) than Debbie!
This documentary was worth the watch!
Of interest to those who have already seen the film: if you scroll down to the italicized text in this article, Steven writes his post-documentary reaction and response to the film and Debbie Lum’s portrayal of him and Sandy. It’s a great read where he also responds to the term “Yellow Fever”, and gets a chance to explain himself to the haters of the world. Personally, I think most of the haters have not actually SEEN the documentary, just the trailer!
And just for fun, on the topic of creepy white guys with Yellow Fever (but people who are gross an charmless, the anti-Steven): a tumblr of things creepy white guys say to Asian girls on online dating sites.