Red Doors weaves some of my own home video footage from the past twenty years into a fictionalized narrative about a contemporary, dysfunctional Chinese-American family. For the Chinese, to paint one’s front doors red is said to bring good luck, fortune, and harmony to the household. The term “Red Doors” is therefore an ironic counterpoint to a family that is emotionally distant and struggles to communicate. The film reflects on how it is often most difficult to connect with those nearest and dearest to your heart.
Red Doors seeks to examine and challenge the paradigm of the modern American family and the extent to which those traditional conceptions are relevant today. Ed, the disaffected father, deviates from the Asian “model minority” stereotype by suddenly abandoning his family on the day of his retirement. One daughter falls in love with a lesbian celebrity and brings her home while another daughter expresses her own emotional solitude through a series of dangerous pranks in her high school. Samantha, the eldest, is living out the so-called American dream and yet is the most unsatisfied of all.
While my Asian heritage intimately informs my work, I have decided not to place the cultural card front and center in this film. Even though the Wong family is Chinese, I believe that their emotional frays and struggles are universal amongst families of any background. By portraying the characters first and foremost as complicated individuals grappling with real life issues, I hope to present a more human face in place of the often stereotyped image of Asian Americans in mainstream western media.
I grew up in a house filled with music and dance, and those two elements are a continuing motif throughout the film. From Samantha’s dreams of ballet to Julie’s tango lessons to Katie’s hip-hop performances, dance and music underscore the generational and cultural divide between the characters but also ultimately provide a common ground for their reconciliation.
Before Ed disappears, he slowly re-visits his history through old VHS footage of the family. The stark contrast between the happier past and the colder reality of the present compel Ed to leave home. By incorporating documentary footage into a fictionalized narrative, I hope to examine the fundamental themes of the film and video medium itself: our continuing attempts to document and therefore preserve our lives and experiences. As Ed and finally Samantha re-discover and re-experience their “pasts” via home videos, we also explore the interplay of documentation, storytelling, and the creation of collective memories. Ultimately, Ed’s disappearance compels each daughter to examine her own understanding of the role and connection she has to the family. At the same time, the Wongs learn to live their own lives outside the invisible fences of their home.