Director Yu Chieh Cheng's Yang Yang is a Taiwanese film about identity. It was made with help from Ang Lee, who served as a consultant to the film through Lee's "Pushing Hands" film initiative. The program supports new directors, and its Mandarin name has double meaning since it was also the name of Ang Lee's first film.
The film centers around Yang Yang, a biracial college student who grew up in Taiwan never knowing her French father. The film plays out in two mostly unrelated parts -- a love triangle and rivalry with her new step-sister, and her life as a model and aspiring actress. Throughout the film, her Eurasian appearance draws desire from men, envy from women, and identity confusion for herself, along with a yearning to be loved. Despite the fact that she personally identifies completely as Taiwanese, cannot speak a word of French, and has no desire to learn French or her father's culture, she is wanted by others and given professional roles that are mostly confined to French-related reasons.
On the one hand, Yang Yang's experience with typecasting as an actress is similar to what Asian American actors experience in Western societies with limited, stereotypical casting opportunities. On the other hand, Yang Yang's access in the story to modeling and acting success reminded me a bit of Maggie Q's start in modeling and acting. It also reminded me tangentially of the 'white guy in a tie' phenomenon, the craze in Asia for circle contact lenses to emulate anime looks, and this article about white Westerners getting bigger roles in Asian television. Yang Yang's opportunities in the story arguably arise in part from white privilege and/or Western-dominated global beauty standards.
The strength of this film is the acting performance of actress Yung-yung Chang (also known as Sandrine Pinna), who herself was born in Taiwan and is of Taiwanese and French descent. It crossed my mind that the script may have been written around this talented actress, rather than in the typical process of casting for a script. For her versatile performance, she won 2009 Best Actress awards at the Taipei Film Festival as well as at the Asia Pacific Film Festival. The film achieves interesting complexity when at one point, the story depicts Yang Yang playing a biracial French-Taiwanese woman in a movie, played by the real life actress with a similar background.