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Where EAST meets the Northwest

MR. APPLE SEED. Dung, played by Steven Liu, shows off his big wad of cash in Simply FOBulous. (Photo courtesy of Wok N Roll Productions)

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #7 (February 14, 2006), page 13.

Mrs. Mai’s potent import

Simply FOBulous: A romantic comedy about one more American trade deficit

Simply FOBulous
Directed by Richard Cranor
Original concept/Produced by Nhien Nguyen
Wok N Roll Productions, 2005

By Polo

Many things — Texas soy and tidy Toyotas — ship freely across our big deep blue. Foreign commerce is central to every vigorous economy. Best for the U.S. would be a healthy give and take of goods, but our imports way exceed our exports. Simply FOBulous only deepens America’s scary trade imbalance by one more precious commodity: dignity.

Sure, the film’s producer, Portland homegirl Nhien Nguyen’s most obvious plot line has to do with what would be a Cherry Blossom catalogue purchase if her mail-order spouse were female. But there’s deeper subtext: Something essential is obviously lost in suburban Seattle, in less than one immigrant generation. It is something restored by the young Viet man actually bought by the anxious Mrs. Mai. For the sake of propriety, let’s call him an Apple Seed. It is a terrific premise.

These are important issues, but this is mostly an irreverently funny movie. The manly import, the immigrant character Dung (played with compelling reserve by Steven Liu), is expected to be so many things by so many needy family members. Mom hopes she’s buying back her youth, Dad dreams about purchasing a piece of Old Saigon, the sisters think they’re getting a fobby boy toy. Their antics are terrific. But none of them took Dung’s Viet integrity into account. The point is subtle; the point is important.

The serious issues can be lost in Simply FOBulous because of the film’s steady stream of Southeast Asian insider humor. "Oh my God, your name’s really Bich Ho?" one of the clueless sisters chirps at her Pedi-Spa attendant, her elder. A man intent on picking his nose turns to shake another’s hand: "Vietnamese handshake." Daughters inevitably falling for an Asian mother’s culturally compulsive melodrama despite knowing better. It all hurts a bit, but it’s so good to laugh.

Also good is knowing that we have a bright and brave generation of Asian-American artists holding high a mirror, holding sharp a focus on what’s silly, what’s grave, and what’s true. Simply FOBulous is filmmaker Nhien Nguyen’s third cinematic credit; she also directed The Life & Times of MC Beer Bong (2004) and Hamburgers & Salsa (2003).

Ms. Nhien grew up in suburban Portland before attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her father is the Honorable Ban Van Nguyen, a retired intelligence officer of the Republic of South Vietnam Navy and a veteran Vietnamese community advocate. She is currently editor-in-chief of Seattle’s International Examiner.

Simply FOBulous was an Official Selection at the Austin Asian Film Festival and the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. It plays as an official selection at Eugene’s inaugural DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon on February 18, with the producer and director present.

Nota: FOB or fobby is an acronym for Fresh Off the Boat: a certain aesthetic, or lack of it.