“Wedding Palace” is writer-director Christine Yoo’s take on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” stitched together with all the trimmings of a post-“Notting Hill” era rom-com. Advertised as the first Asian-American romantic comedy, the film is subtle and crass at the same time. Managing to capture the exhilaration of young love with a neon-drenched Seoul as a backdrop, the film milks campy, unflattering clichés from the dry teat of the Asian media cow.
The story itself is one we’ve all seen before. It’s a rom-com through and through. Jason Kim, played by Brian Tee, has had his life planned for him since his first birthday. Traditionally, Korean infants are set before a handful of symbolic items (money, a paintbrush, a bowl of rice, etc.) from which they pick an object that dictates their entire life. Instead of a symbolic item, baby Jason instead ends up fishing out a tampon from his mother’s purse. Because of this, Grandma Kim declares Jason cursed to die should he not marry someone (who his parents choose for him, of course) before his 30th birthday. Twenty years later, Jason is an advertising exec for a feminine hygiene company and freshly ditched at the altar by his bride-to-be who left him for Guido, the wedding cake maker, no less. However, on a business trip to Seoul, he meets and woos a potential soul mate in Na Young. Of course, before they can put their wedding plans into fruition, they must endure the many hijinks of Jason’s idiosyncratic family.
Acclaimed Korean actress Hye-Jeong Kang plays Na Young in her first English-speaking role. She injects a much-needed freshness to the film, but truly shines opposite Brian Tee. Their relationship develops a charming, believable chemistry that works well against the caricatured zaniness of everyone else in the cast.
Though Tee and Young are both decent in their lead roles, the supporting cast surprisingly ends up outshining them. Famous stand-up comedian Margaret Cho shows up as a mojito-loving shaman who channels ancient ancestors and ends up providing some of the films’ biggest laughs. Doctor Aunt, played hilariously by Nancy J. Lee, a UC Irvine alumna, delivers a fun, relatable take on most Korean-American’s perm-haired aunties. As Jason’s snarky best friend, stand-up comedian Bobby Lee also provides some decent humor. Yoo lets the strong supporting cast act their lungs off, as they all bring her wacky, satiric vision of Korean-American families to ridiculous fruition.
Apart from the handful of laughs that are injected from the eclectic cast, the film does unfortunately fall into the tropes of typical rom-com clichés. Simultaneously though, it is admirable to see an entry in this genre for taking the route of assembling an ensemble cast that is almost entirely comprised of Asian-American actors.
Overall, “Wedding Palace” has me torn. Can an expert cast make up for hysterical but, at times, cheap laughs? Can they enhance an otherwise lackluster script? Will I ever find a girl who makes her own kimchi?
We might never know for sure.
ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: You can ignore the cliches, and instead appreciate it for taking a new approach in cast ensembles for the genre.