In addition to writing and (sort of) directing East Broadway, Lee also stars in the film as Grace Tang, a single, 30-something Chinese-American woman who has spent most of her life trying to escape her poor, Chinatown past. Even as a financially secure, well-established adult, she still pursues her childhood dream of acceptance by those she considers her social superiors: her current dream is to be part of the unattainable Park Avenue elite, attending regular benefits, charity auctions, and opulent balls. To that end, she crams furiously on opera in order to be well-prepared for an opera-related benefit to which she’s wrangled an invitation.
It is while at the opera event that Grace is mistaken for a member of Hong Kong’s Tang family, the creators of up-scale clothing line Shanghai Tang, and immediately esteemed by the assembled rich, lily-white masses. Because this is a movie, Grace doesn’t bother to correct the misunderstanding and, before she knows it, is involved with Andrew Harrington, Jr. (Queer as Folk's Gale Harold) a lawyer she meets at the party. Andrew is the perfect Prince Charming: wealthy, caring (except towards his girlfriend, whom he doesn’t bother to tell about Grace), and with a social conscience -- he works in the federal prosecutor’s office and is trying to close Chinatown sweatshops. As played by Harold, he’s also miserably bland, and he and Lee’s Grace have embarrassingly little chemistry. Their scenes together are painfully stilted, and often sound as if they were produced by a Cinderella-movie writing machine, including lines like “I’ve never met anyone like you before!”, and “I couldn’t believe that someone like you could ever be with someone like me.”
After a few minor, entirely predictable pitfalls and twists, the movie ends up right were youd expect, and everyone lives happily ever after. However, despite the fact that the plot constantly dramatizes the two worlds Grace straddles -- she is wealthy, and lives on the Upper East Side, while her much-loved Chinese-speaking parents still live in a tiny Chinatown apartment -- the difference between her background and that of her dream man is mentioned only once in the film. Given the visual and thematic emphasis on Grace’s inner conflict, one wonders of the decision to almost completely remove discussion of class and race from the movie’s script wasn’t the source of the conflict between Wong and East Broadway’s producers. Even in very brief interviews back when he was director, Wong tended to foreground class difference and Grace’s social ambitions when he discussed the story, and those things are hardly mentioned in the film as it exists today.
These rather significant complaints aside, however, there’s a charming lack of seriousness to the film that renders it surprisingly watchable (as opposed to other weak first features with Tribeca premieres). Lee is reasonably convincing as Grace, and the supporting cast -- the best of which is Ken Leung who, as Grace’s younger brother Ming, outshines bigger names Roger Rees, Christine Baranski, and Margaret Cho -- adds some heft and interest to the film. While I wouldn’t recommend passing up anything to see East Broadway, if you’re a Tribeca addict with a free time slot, you could do worse than take in this harmless romantic comedy.