The Grace Lee Project

What's in a name? Well, if it happens to be Grace Lee, the name of the L.A.-based Korean-American filmmaker behind this smart, funny and unexpectedly touching video essay, there's quite a lot, and it's all pretty much the same. Everyone Lee meets seems to know at least one Grace Lee — the name is inexplicably common among Asian women — and they all use...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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What's in a name? Well, if it happens to be Grace Lee, the name of the L.A.-based Korean-American filmmaker behind this smart, funny and unexpectedly touching video essay, there's quite a lot, and it's all pretty much the same. Everyone Lee meets seems to know at least one Grace Lee — the name is inexplicably common among Asian women — and they all use the same terms to describe her: quiet, studious, musically accomplished, and above all, nice in a forgettable sort of way. In other words, "Grace Lee" is just another name for the pervasive stereotype of the typical Asian-American woman. In order to explore — and hopefully explode — this cultural cliche, Lee set up a website soliciting personal information from Grace Lees all over the world, and while she met a number of interesting women — including a successful, Hawaii-based newswoman, as well as Bruce Lee's mother — Lee was disheartened to form a composite profile that fit the preconception of "perfect sameness." Where were the rebels, the punks, the troublemakers with bad hair who couldn't play the piano and who could help our less-than-perfect Grace Lee identify herself as something other than a generic Other? Lee has a momentary jolt of optimism when she hears about a teenage Grace Lee who recently tried to burn down her high school, but when she gets to San Francisco, she finds a frightened teenager who cracked under the pressure to be perfect, and who desperately tried to destroy her "shameful" school record. But with a little more digging, Lee is able to uncover a number of women who don't fit any kind of mold. Among them is Grace Lee Boggs, an 88-year-old Chinese-American Bryn Mawr grad who became deeply involved in the Black Power movement and has dedicated her life to helping the poor, black community of Detroit. She also meets a 14-year-old Grace from Silicon Valley who, instead of cutting herself like her friends, chooses to express herself through extraordinarily violent artwork. Lee, however, saves the most amazing Grace for last. A Korean-born orphan who managed to escape her abusive adoptive family, she was able to define herself from scratch in the middle of white-bread America. Now, having raised her teenage son on her own, Grace is now sheltering a friend and her four kids from the family's frighteningly abusive father. Through what sounds like a project of unpromisingly limited scope, Lee manages to touch on a surprisingly wide range of subjects, from cultural identity, familial expectations, community responsibility and, above all, self-definition. In the end, it's essentially Lee's journey of self-discovery, but one that enables all of us to see each other in a slightly different way, regardless of our names.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: What's in a name? Well, if it happens to be Grace Lee, the name of the L.A.-based Korean-American filmmaker behind this smart, funny and unexpectedly touching video essay, there's quite a lot, and it's all pretty much the same. Everyone Lee meets seems to… (more)

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