The Diary of Evelyn Lau | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Diary of Evelyn Lau

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Asians as the model minority is a stereotype that flatters and stifles. This 1993 feature, made for the Canadian Broadcast Company, turns the cliche on its head in chronicling the tawdry true-life encounters of a Vancouver runaway teenager who aspires to be a poet. Caught between disapproving parents with traditional expectations and her own curiosity-driven literary bent, Lau flees to the streets, turning to drugs and hooking. Yet, as Barry Stevens's adaptation of Lau's autobiography suggests, she remains a Candide-like waif, a nonjudgmental observer of the follies around her. Eventually Lau wrings street-smart, best-selling poetry out of two years of harrowing experiences. To director Sturla Gunnarsson's credit, the cinema verite storytelling shies away from mawkish sensationalism and only occasionally stoops to harsh condemnation: Gunnarsson lets Sandra Oh breathe life into the title character. In a poised and nuanced portrayal, Oh is at first geeky, then worldly--innocent yet seductive. Her gradual transformation from self-loathing to self-acceptance is totally believable, especially in the confessional scenes with a shrink that bring to mind Jane Fonda in Klute. Small wonder that the Ottawa-born Oh, who later starred as another angst-ridden mediator of two cultures in Double Happiness, is recognized as one of Canada's most inventive actresses. Oh will be on hand to discuss her career after the screening, which kicks off the Film Center's monthlong Asian American Showcase. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, April 5, 8:00, 443-3737. --Ted Shen

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