Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2005 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 13th, 2006
*No Refunds, No Exchanges
This "tragicomic mockumentary" makes mincemeat out of the American male. Let's face it guys, we're pigs and we deserve it. Luckily, some of the objects of our affections have a taste for bacon, but the truly smart ones like women. If you don't believe the above statements then look no further than Mail Order Wife to make you one of the faithful. The film is a savage satire of men involved with a Burmese mail order bride who is severely mistreated in a game of testosterone and machismo taken to horrific extremes.
A documentary filmmaker named Andrew (Andrew Gurland, Cheats) finds a willing subject in a Brooklyn doorman named Adrian (Adrian Martinez, The Interpreter). The sloppy, lovesick man allows him to film the process of acquiring a foreign bride, which Andrew agrees to pay for in exchange for Adrian's participation in the film. Enter the beautiful and confused Lichi (Eugenia Yuan, a Chinese actress featured recently in Memoirs of a Geisha) as the titular mail order wife. As soon as Lichi arrives to New York from Burma she is turned in to a cook and maid by Adrian. He also wants her to get an unnecessarily cruel medical procedure, and demands she appears in amateur bondage videos which he produces in his basement. Once Andrew begins to understand that Lichi is being victimized, he spirits her away to his apartment. Lichi seems safe, until one night she has an outburst at a dinner party designed to get her a job with a caterer. We learn through Lichi's interpreter that her protests have to do with Andrew's girlfriend, and we learn he has been having sex with Lichi. She's being used yet again. Then the twists begin to come fast and furious as the documentary film maker loses all objectivity, and his subject proves to be the perfect prize in a war of manipulation and will.
If you didn't know going in to the film that it's all staged, you'd swear it is the real deal. This looks and feels like a documentary as much as Series 7: The Contenders feels like a reality television series. On the cover we are told by Peter Travers from Rolling Stonethat the movie is "fierce and darkly funny." Peter must have a hideously wide dark streak to find humor in the degradation of a foreign woman, but he is right. This is vicious satire; if you're a fan of black comedy, Mail Order Wife fits the bill nicely. They don't come any darker than this one. We are also told from the cover the producer is director Doug Liman, who was responsible for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, and Swingers. Well, he was one of many producers according to the credits; however, he has a hand in it somehow.
The DVD for Mail Order Wife is an interesting package. The transfer looks like a documentary, so it's of varying quality on purpose. Quality changes almost as often as the plot, so there's nothing to really gripe about or praise. It is what it is. The surround mix is puzzling because most of the movie sounds mono. But it's nice to see it was in full surround even if it was unnecessary. All of the sound is thin, just like a documentary would be.
The disc shines in the extras. First up is a three participant commentary with the director and the acting leads. It's a talky fun affair full of interesting tidbits about the production, and how they got it all made. The deleted scenes are interesting, with silly, off-the-cuff improvisations. The audition tapes reveal that the actors came in to the project fully realizing their characters. The supporting cast segments are cute, too. It's a real treat to see an independent movie get the royal treatment.
In the end, the movie is horrifically funny, a true black comedy played out to its logical extremes. Mail Order Wife is an outrageously shocking piece of film making that you will find appeals to your darkest sense of the twisted. Throughout the whole story we are concerned about the pawn in this male game, but thankfully Lichi has a bit of Nietzsche hiding under her sweet China doll facade. This comedy pits the haves and the have nots in a war with the have nothings. It's more than a little sexist with a good shot of racism for good measure. The movie strays far from tasteful, but if you can stomach the amorality of the opening reels it rewards you with a smart climax where people get what they deserve. It's certainly worth a look for fans of black comedy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Directors Huck Botko and Adrew Garland with Actress Eugenia Yuan
* Deleted Scenes
* Supporting Character Segments
* Find Your Own Wife at "Mail Order Brides.com"