It took me at least three tries, but I finally finished this one. So safe to say, it didn’t keep me enthralled throughout. Fortunately a strong ending with a very well-integrated and multilayered Christmassy message all but erased the parts that literally put me to sleep. To be fair, I was trying to look at this one in bed at the end of and in the middle of the night.
Liv is a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle who reports to Jack Wagner who plays Charles. She is assigned to work with Henry, a newcomer from Bangkok, to write about the Chang family’s famous Christmas party that raises money for the Chinatown community, affectionately called The Changtastic Christmas. It is circus-like, outlandish, and unapologetically over the top. Little do her boss and new partner know, Liv Rose is actually Liv Chang. She has always kept her identity a secret because she has always been embarrassed by her “Crazy Loud Asian” family, especially at Christmas. She prefers quiet elegance and muted tones. It’s a tribute to Shannon Chan-Kent’s portrayal that her character isn’t thoroughly dislikable. It is made clear that other than her blind spot about her family’s Christmas traditions, she loves them very much and she has a good heart.
It is not long before Henry, who is thoroughly charmed by the Chang family, finds out Liv’s true identity as their beloved daughter. She agrees to help with the story as long as she and her connection to the family are kept out of it. She cares too much about what people think and does not want her connection to her parents (Mom played by Tia Carrere) made public. It is not long before love between the two journalists is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the romance is a weak point in the movie. Henry is very bland and has a very weird accent. For me, the vibe was “friendly colleague” rather than “smitten true love”. He is kind of stand-offish with her even at the end. Too bad, I really liked him in The Conjuring.
Henry submits his story to Charles who gives it a thumbs down, saying it needs a more personal connection to the famous Changs. This is where Liv confesses her secret identity to Charles. With her OK, they set about giving the feature a more personal spin and bringing in more about the family. Henry goes with Liv to collect the donations from each family in the community which are hung in red bags on the Christmas tree at the party. (the donations, not the families.) This is where it all goes sideways. Liv (and Henry) lose the big bag of money on the trolley car! This in turn leads to what might be an unhealable and hurtful breach with her family. Words are had.
As I said, this had a very strong and satisfying ending. We learn about a childhood incident that caused Liv to put up her boundaries in the first place. A depressed and contrite Liv seeks refuge at her local church, the historic Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on Grant Avenue. She is given wise advice and hope from a nice woman who works there. She finds a way to make good on the donations, heal the breach with her family, her community, and embrace her culture regardless of “what people think.” And it all results in their story being featured on the front page of the newspaper! Ka-ching ka-Chang!