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        from the movie
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Falling for Grace 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 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 a clique of girls who thought I was not good enough or wealthy enough to be one of “them.” 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 be the perfect backdrop. Chinatown is a fascinating subculture of Manhattan. A Chinese immigrant can literally plant him/herself in Chinatown and live the rest of one’s life within a one square mile radius without ever needing to speak English. I wanted to examine what that could mean to a character like Grace who aspires 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.

In order to tell Grace’s story convincingly, I needed to make sure that her family were all fluent Cantonese speakers, still the predominant dialect in New York Chinatown. Nothing bothers me more than seeing a Chinese family on screen speak different dialects or with a bad accent when they shouldn’t. I lucked out with a great cast - Clem Cheung ("Ba") and Elizabeth Sung ("Ma") are both originally from Hong Kong. Ken Leung ("Ming") grew up in New York Chinatown and spoke Cantonese with his parents. They were the perfect family for Grace.

Andrew (Gale Harold) 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 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 struggle to find happiness within his own world and stay true to himself.

In retrospect, I believe that Falling For Grace is an exploration of the struggle for self-acceptance. Whether you’re a handsome, wealthy man from a famous family or a little girl from working class Chinatown, accepting who you are is the first challenging step to achieving fulfillment and true happiness. I hope you all enjoy my little homage to the classic American romantic comedy.

Fay Ann Lee


© 2008 Sneak Eye Pictures