Grace Tang is an investment banker successful in the high-powered world of finance despite her modest Chinatown upbringing. However, she is still constantly seeking to climb the social ladder by joining the most elite committee in New York.
When Grace finally gets an invitation to a party for The Opera of New York City's Junior Committee, she is determined to shine. At the chic affair filled with haute WASPs, Grace is mistakenly connected to the renowned "Shanghai Tang" boutique on Madison Avenue, so the committee members promise to vote Grace in.
Before she can correct her mistaken identity, all eyes turn to handsome Andrew Barrington, Jr., the heir to the Barrington fortune. When the duo are introduced, he is completely taken by her unaffected style, while Grace is thrilled to be taking the most eligible bachelor in New York.
I grew up watching and loving classic American romantic comedies: Working Girl, Pretty Woman, The Truth About Cats and Dogs. I identified with Tess McGill, Vivian Ward and Abby Barnes, all underdogs trying to find acceptance in a world where they don't quite fit in. It wasn't until later that I realized that all my life, I had identified with non-Asian characters in these classic American stories. There were simply no Asian American Tess McGills in our cinematic catalogue that I can think of. So, when I decided to pen my first screenplay, I wanted to create the Asian "Tess".
When I first came up with the story of Falling for Grace, I didn't realize that what drove the plot of the film (Grace, our main character, wanting to be part of elite New York society) came from an event that happened to me at age 8, when I was singled out and shunned at a birthday party by the popular girls who thought I was not rich enough to be their playmate. I ended up by myself on the first floor of the penthouse apartment, while the rich girls all played on the second. Such are the hazards of growing up in a city--Hong Kong-- that holds the record for the most Rolls-Royces- per-capita in the world. It's amazing how a single event from childhood can inform and color the rest of one's life.
In telling Grace's story, I knew that New York Chinatown would become a vital detail in explaining who she is and why she aspires to become someone she's not. Chinatown is a fascinating subculture. A Chinese immigrant can literally plant himself in Chinatown and live the rest of his life within a one mile radius, without ever needing to speak English or step north of Canal Street. I wanted to examine what that could mean to a character like Grace who sees beyond the confines of her own community and, on top of that, is continually influenced by pop culture and images created by the media and Hollywood.
One of the major challenges I found as the writer and then the director was how to approach the role of Andrew. Being neither white nor male, I found myself writing a part that was actually far more stereotypical than I had hoped. When Gale Harold was cast as Andrew, I started to re-shape the role for him. Gale's honest delivery made Andrew a far more complex and interesting individual and, therefore, far more real. Through Gale's performance, we see that life for a rich, famous bachelor isn't perfect either--and can be, in fact, quite painful at times. As perfect as Gale may appear, he captures Andrew's flaws masterfully: his inability to find happiness within his own world and stay true to himself.
Ultimately, Falling for Grace is a simple cross-cultural film with a universal theme of "wanting to belong": my little homage to the classic American romantic comedy.
Gale Harold (Andrew Barrington, Jr.)
Fay Ann Lee (Grace Tang)
Margaret Cho (Janie Wong)
Ken Leung (Ming Tang)
Christine Baranski (Bree Barrington)
Roger Rees (Andrew Barrington, Sr.)
Elizabeth Sung (Ma)
Clem Cheung (Ba)
Director/Producer: Fay Ann Lee
Producers: Susan Batson, Carl Rumbaugh, Stephanie Wang, Juan Carlos Zapata
Producer/Editor: Michelle Botticelli
Executive producers: Michael Gleissner, Malcolm Jozoff, David W. Unger
Co-producers: Mark L. Pederson, Aldey Sanchez
Story by: Fay Ann Lee
Screenplay by: Fay Ann Lee with Karen Rousso
Directors of Photography: Luke Geissbuhler, Alec Jarnigan, Toshiaki Ozawa
Casting: Linda Phillips-Palo
Music Composer: Andrew Hollander
Casting Directors: Billy Hopkins, Paul Schnee