Rare opportunities lost to melodrama

Times Staff Writer

Since opportunities in movies for actors of Asian descent remain relatively scarce, it's all the more disappointing that Anna Chi's "Blindness" is such a bummer, especially since it stars the distinguished and versatile Lisa Lu and the lovely and capable Vivian Wu. It's a glum, stale soap opera, tediously paced but mercifully running only 75 minutes, its sole virtue.

It is a far from auspicious feature debut for Chi, who served as an assistant director to Oliver Stone on "Nixon" and to Wayne Wang on "The Joy Luck Club."

The Beverly Hills estate of the Hong family is tasteful and luxurious, but it's a deeply unhappy home.

Lu's elegant Mrs. Hong, a recent widow and blind, is a dragon lady determined to make life miserable for her daughter-in-law Natalie (Wu), apparently unable to bear a Hong heir. Caught in the middle is Mrs. Hong's son Daniel (Chin Han), a busy and ambitious eye surgeon often absent because of the demands of his career, which seems lucky for him but hardly good for his marriage.

Mother- and daughter-in-law wrangle constantly, but fairly early on their incessant warfare is interrupted one evening by an armed intruder, Patrick (Joe Lando). Patrick, however, is no ordinary crook but a figure from the family's past, and the film proceeds as a lurid, overheated but underdeveloped melodrama in which terrible secrets surface, topped by a surprise twist that is merely mechanical in effect because the film's characters are generic rather than distinctive in any way.

"Blindness" is entirely too trite and contrived for any serious consideration of a generational clash of values to emerge. To be sure, Mrs. Hong's blindness is heavily symbolic. Lu and Wu both strive valiantly, but "Blindness" seems doomed from the start.



MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult themes

Lisa Lu...Mrs. Hong

Vivian Wu...Natalie Hong

Joe Lando...Patrick

Chin Han...Dr. Daniel Hong

A Pathfinder Pictures release of a Park Avenue production. Director Anna Chi. Producer Karen Koch. Executive producers Anna Chi, Federico Faggin. Screenplay Chi, Jared Rappaport. Cinematographer Rico Sands. Editor Brian Johnson, Michael A. Stevenson. Music Mark Governor. Costumes Joseph A. Porro. Production designer Gary Myers. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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