USA Publications / index / New Asian Currents

The Trained Chinese Tongue

Director, Script, Photography, Editing, Sound, Producer:
Laurie Wen
Source: Women Make Movies
462 Broadway, 5th fl. New York, NY 10013 USA
Phone: 1-212-925-0606 / Fax: 1-212-925-2052
USA / 1994 / English, Cantonese, Mandarin / Color / 16mm / 20 min

Laurie Wen

Born in Hong Kong and moved to the U.S. with her family at age 12. She studied film at Harvard and has been working on independent films in New York since graduation. Awarded "Best Documentary Short" at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival, The Trained Chinese Tongue has also screened in Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and other cities, and has been broadcast on public television in New York. A fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts, she is currently working on her second film, Don't Worry, I'm Fine.


This documentary explores Chinese-American identity and the myth incorporated in the communal exchanges of food and language. As the filmmaker joins strangers in their cooking, eating, and other everyday rituals, she discovers "instant bonding" through a common immigrant status, despite vast differences in class, geo-political origins, and even language.

Director's Statement

I began to work in film because I was saddened and inspired by the ways people grapple with alienation and displacement. The Trained Chinese Tongue examines how Chinese immigrants live at the complex crossroads of food, language, colonization, and immigration. I approach a series of strangers--all immigrant women--in a Chinatown grocery store and follow them home for dinner.

My work-in-progress, Don't Worry, I'm Fine, concerns the letters I have been writing to my grandmother in the name of her dead daughter, my aunt Maisy. The ritual began ten years ago with Aunt Maisy's death and my mother's decision that my mentally ill grandmother was too unstable to be told the truth. The film explores how my role as a link between these two women has evolved as I accompany my grandmother through two of the worst episodes of her long mental illness.
My hope is to represent these struggles on their own terms, using points of reference integral to everyday life--such as cooking or writing letters--to reveal narratives too often obscured.


Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee