Chinese people have always viewed New York as the ultimate symbol of Americanism–something evident in a wide range of Chinese tragi-romances and coming-of-age stories, including my favorite, My Old Classmate. However, the most vibrant ethnic Chinese communities in the U.S. today are not in New York, but rather in West Coast cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. It is in the latter that director Xue Xiaolu’s Beijing Meets Seattle (a.k.a. Finding Mr. Right) takes place. Wen Jiajia (played by Tang Wei from Lust, Caution), the mistress of a Chinese tuhao, flies to Seattle. Her purpose: to give birth in the U.S. at an underground birthing center run by a man named Hao Zhi (“Frank”, played by Wu Xiubo of The Four).
In the film’s humorous start, we see Jiajia questioned by a customs agent upon her arrival to the U.S. — “why are you visiting”, he asks. With her limited command of the English language, Jiajia simply replies “Sleepless in Seattle. You know that? I love that movie!” Over the course of Beijing Meets Seattle, we see Jiajia develop from a wealthy and materialistic mistress to someone who understands that there is more to life than money (despite her initial exclamation of “who don’t love money?”). Through her interactions with the tireless Frank (who’s utterly devoted to his family, even going as far as to give up his medical career to be closer to his young daughter and divorced wife), Jiajia begins to understand that love goes beyond Prada shoes and Chanel purses.
Beijing Meets Seattle can be best characterized as a romantic-comedy, however it would be unfair to bucket it along with the likes of The EX-Files or The Truth About Beauty, as it has much deeper-running themes. Besides exploring the pitfalls of America’s jus soli birthright citizenship doctrine, Beijing Meets Seattle helps remind the audience about what truly matters in life — not material wealth exemplified by yachts and planes, but rather a loving family and caring companion. Jiajia and Frank in many ways are foils for each other, each representing one extreme of the spectrum between rampant materialism and sobering family-oriented commitment; in this contrast we find not only moments of humor and romance, but also a connection to the two characters from our internal desires. Tang Wei’s passionate acting definitely helps convey the story well enough, and after acting in the racy Lust, Caution, it was surprisingly refreshing to see her carry such a lighthearted role so well.
While Beijing Meets Seattle was a wonderfully entertaining film, what made me laugh even more was its real-world impact. Apparently, Chinese who watched the film fell so much in love with Seattle that they ended up sparking a property boom there. However, in the most ironic (and perhaps Chinese) of circumstances, Beijing Meets Seattle was actually shot in Vancouver — a fitting metaphor for a country where perception matters more than substance, where the truth often hides behind smoke and mirrors (and a little smog doesn’t hurt either).
Beijing Meets Seattle (Chinese: 北京遇上西雅图)—China. Directed by Xue Xiaolu. First released February 2013. Running time 2hr 2min. Starring Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo.