Writer-director Eric Byler delivers an intimate adaptation of Shawn Wong’s quintessential Asian American novel, American Knees. Byler hones in on the delicate dangers of the inertia that can set in after a romantic break up. Raymond Ding (played by Academy-Award® winner Chris Tashima) is middle aged, divorced, and in the throes of yet another failed relationship. He sleepwalks through the formalities of splitting up but finds himself in a strange holding pattern where he can’t let go nor move on.
Aurora Crane, his ex-girlfriend (played by Allison Sie) is doggedly trying to move on with her life. She had become the no longer young, younger woman in Raymond’s life. Leaving the relationship with an under-developed sense of identity, she forces herself into her future, but without direction or sense of purpose.
AMERICANESE explores the ripple effect that this period creates on their futures as well as the futures of those around them. Raymond, a university professor, tentatively tries to move forward by dating co-worker, Betty Nguyen, portrayed uncompromisingly by Joan Chen. Aurora, who is bi-racial with a white father, decidedly dates a “non-Asian” man named Steve (played by Emmy-nominated Ben Shenkman) in hopes of a safer more familiar type of relationship. The reality that Steve is the ex of her best friend Brenda (Kelly Hu) is lost on her as she tries to surface from her emotional fog.
The story examines the purgatory of romantic separation with an uncomfortable honesty that is bald but not judgmental. AMERICANESE is a gently cautionary tale; the actions taken in our most vulnerable state often lay the emotional groundwork for our future.
by Shawn Wong
“I cracked up reading Shawn Wong’s witty, tender, wise, and sexy new novel. His lovable but ambivalent protagonist collides memorably with a cast of female characters who are a welcome change from the shrinking violets and silent martyrs we’ve come to expect from ‘ethnic’ literature. American Knees is contemporary to the bone – a highly entertaining, deftly written, provocative and moving work of fiction.”
Jessica Hagedorn, author of Dogeaters