Bertha Bay-Sa Pan’s Face bounces back and forth between the 1970s and the 1990s, telling two parallel stories of a mother and a daughter attempting to break through the barriers of cultural expectations. The title Face refers to the concept of saving face, linking personal and familial dignity to the image painted by the actions you choose. Unfortunately, when a culture’s traditional mindset views crossing cultural boundaries as equally shameful to conceiving a child out of wedlock, it becomes virtually impossible to balance individuality with familial acceptance.

Bai Ling plays Kim, the mother. As a college student, we see her struggling to find her own identity. Her mother scolds her for acting “too white.” During a vulnerable night, Kim is raped by a friend and soon finds herself pregnant with his child. Desperate to save face, their families arrange for a marriage, and the heartbreakingly defeated Kim finds herself going through the motions. However, one day, she snaps, leaves her baby with her mother, and makes a run for it.

Fast forward two decades and the baby, Genie (Kristy Wu), much like her mother, is too Americanized for her grandmother’s taste. She finds herself attracted to Michael (Anthony “Treach” Criss of Naughty by Nature), a black DJ at a hip-hop club she frequents. The film explores racial dynamics to a point, but it’s more about the relationship between three generations of women in a less-than-ideal situation. Genie has extreme bitterness toward her mother for abandoning her, and the most interesting parts of the film involve Kim coming back, struggling to build a relationship with her daughter, not wanting to believe that her efforts might be too little, too late.

Ling gives a nice performance, especially as the older Kim, and Wu, despite having a distracting lack of chemistry with Treach, holds her own. Because the film confronts so many themes it feels scattered at some points but it succeeds in avoiding casting judgment on the women, instead portraying them as real, complicated people who try to act in upright, moral ways but sometimes fail miserably.

Grade: B

Face is currently playing in theaters.