Dim Sum Funeral

Dim Sum FuneralSynopsis: An Irish funeral has a wake, a Jewish funeral has sitting Shiva, but a traditional Chinese funeral has something else entirely – which is what the estranged siblings of a westernized Chinese-American family discover as they try to fulfill their mother’s last wish. In the process, they learn more about themselves and their mother than they ever fathomed.


Dim Sum Funeral 7.0

eyelights: the premise. the light humour. learning about Chinese funereal traditions.
eyesores: the contrived ending. the unreasonably quick emotional healings.

“I believe all of us are connected, even without realizing it. We are all ingredients in a wonderful meal.”

‘Dim Sum Funeral’ is a 2008 Canadian-American co-production that takes place in Seattle, but was mostly filmed in Surrey and Vancouver, BC. It tells the story of four distant Chinese-American siblings who come together in their family home for the funeral of their mother, the much-disliked “Dragon Lady”.

Her last request, which is read to them by Viola, the family nursemaid and caretaker, is that they hold a traditional Chinese funeral for her – a seven-day ritual that they are all very much unfamiliar with. This forces them to deal with their long-held grievances as they make preparations.

Then various family and friends start to pop up, including an older man whom no one knows, the family hires two monks to chant every day, and they start to discover another side to the “Dragon Lady” through the objects she left behind and the recollections of members of the community.

All this with the sure-handed guidance of Viola, who knows a lot more than they ever imagined.

I probably enjoyed ‘Dim Sum Funeral’ far more than I should have. I’ve read many acerbic comments about it since, and was surprised by how much dislike there is for this film. Some of the criticism is justified and some of it is absolutely side-splitting (ex: the “CliffsNotes” I found on the UCLA website)

In all fairness, I recognize that the plot is mundane, despite the ridiculous twist ending, and that the acting is uneven. But I enjoyed the set-up and the setting, liked the whimsical aspect of the piece and appreciated learning about Chinese funereal traditions (I must admit that I knew nothing going in).

I even liked the characters, who were all given their own unique challenges: the eldest lost her son, then split from her husband; the middle one was forced to turn her back on the love of her life by her mom because he is black; the youngest is a lesbian b-movie actress; the son has a mistress and marital woes.

There were amusing, if unrealistic, moments that peppered the piece, too, such as the arrival of Zhou Lin, who proceeded to gobble down a week of food and run to the bathroom, or when the lesbian couple tried to coax one of the monks into donating semen so that they may get pregnant together.

There were even lovely moments like the scene when they return from making preparations to find Zhou Lin practicing tai chi in the expansive backyard (accompanied by a hilariously stiff Viola). One by one, they join him in what ends up being an awkward group dance/choreography.

But, admittedly, aside from the B-grade acting (Tseng Chang, as Zhou Lin, is an exception), which I write off as the mark of a low-budget indie film, and the conventional aspects of the plot, ‘Dim Sum Funeral’ did suffer from some plot contrivances that simply don’t hold up under any sensible of scrutiny.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

For example:

  • Meimei discovers that she’s Zhou Lin’s daughter and makes the transition very quickly from raging with betrayal one evening to holding this perfect stranger’s hand. You have to remember that he was also a stranger to most of the family until a week ago; there are no bonds whatsoever between her and her biological father. So it seems weird to me to just accept him so openly. I didn’t buy it.
  • Overnight, Cindy forgives Alex for cheating on her incessantly, and sleeps with him, no questions asked – she doesn’t even ask him to get a check up. Now, I know that some people are idiots that way, but at the very least, even if she was able to switch from bitter byatch to Mother Theresa, she should have enough smarts to protect her own health. Who knows where he’s been putting that thing!
  • Bruce Lee, the young monk that Meimei and Dede choose as a sperm donor, finds the couple inspiring because they live their life without compromise, unconcerned by what people think of them. The result? He decides to leave the priesthood, so that he can live the life he wants to live (getting married with tons of kids), not the one his parents hoped for him. It sure didn’t take much for him to stray, did it?
  • The whole twist is utter BS. What in the world was the mother thinking in faking her own death? How could she not realize that this emotional manipulation and act of betrayal could only anger her kids, not warm them up to her? It’s probably the dumbest ploy I could ever think of, and it could only work in a horror story – whose intentions are not sentimentality but chills. Here it’s the mark of an idiot.
  • Why in the world would the matriarch fake her own death at the beginning, and even have a hearse come by, if this whole thing was coordinated by Viola anyway? It just doesn’t make sense: her kids weren’t even in town and could have been told any tall tale. It was really just done to trick the audience. This pisses me off because the film could have just started with the kids receiving their phone calls. No need to BS us too.
  • Finally, everyone forgives the mother very quickly and Viola even gets applause from them all in recognition for her participation in this subterfuge. All is peachy keen, and the family is bonded together just as the mother wanted them to be. Suuuuuure. No one is upset for more than a minute, and some react quite well to the emotional rollercoaster ride and being lied to for days on end. I wouldn’t.

But by the end, they are just a happy family, as though nothing ever happened. All wounds are magically healed.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

It’s funny, but in retrospect, I would probably give ‘Dim Sum Funeral’ a 6.75 now, instead of 7.0.  But I wonder if that feeling is influenced by comments that I read online. The fact of the matter is that, after watching it, it felt like a 7.0 to me (although it started as a 7.5 and gradually sunk lower as it wore on).

What ‘Dim Sum Funeral’ wants to be is a traditional Chinese funeral full of untraditional people. What it ends up being is some kind of funeral full of fairly dim people. It doesn’t repeal its minor charms, mind you, it’s just that it impedes one’s enjoyment – we’re far too busy shaking our heads to be touched by it.

Date of viewing: December 29, 2014

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