Well, at least "Dim Sum" makes you hungry. There are lots of shots of the various cakes and dumplings of Chinese brunch from which the movie draws its title, along with more routine Chinese food, and the characters plunge into it with the lip-smacking relish of a vampire in a sorority house. That said, "Dim Sum" doesn't exactly make you hungry for more.
How boring and aimless it is! What fake profundity! Geraldine (Laureen Chew) is a graduate student who works by day in the Chinatown saloon of her Uncle Tam (Victor Wong) and lives by night with her aging, widowed mother (Kim Chew). She's got a boyfriend, a doctor. So the family (which, we are endlessly reminded, is so darn lovable) puts on the pressure for marriage; Geraldine agonizes. More pressure. More agonizing.
The conflict over the boyfriend is supposed to condense the culture clash between two generations of Chinese Americans, but there's nothing particularly Chinese about it -- the family could just as well be Jewish or Italian (whatsa matter, all of a sudden you're too good for a doctor?). And director Wayne Wang and his screen writer, Terrel Seltzer, never try to heighten the conflict.
Heightening the conflict, Wang seems to think, would subvert the reality of "Dim Sum," the sense of lived-in life; as in his brilliant first feature, "Chan Is Missing," he likes a touch of documentary texture. But so much of the acting is actorish, the dialogue so stilted, that there's no sense of reality, either -- he loses on both ends.
"Dim Sum," translated literally, means "a little heart," and symbolizes the emotion that holds the family together, whatever the stresses. In many families, food is a way of expressing love, but that's usually because, without the food, it's a family of strangers; there's no sense in "Dim Sum" of the desperate lack of connection that makes such a strategy necessary.
The movie is riddled with lame jokes, most of them on the order of: All Chinese men care about is "their sons and which movies to Betamax." And the already torpid pace is further squashed with meditative montages of old family photographs that tell you that the past is a presence in the household -- something we already know -- but illuminate little beyond that. With the exception of Wong, a lively, pixie-faced actor with a half-closed eye (he used to be one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, and it shows), the cast varies from stolidity to self-consciousness (the aptly named Kim Chew does little but).