Full synopsis of published work Rose Jungle (aka Flower and the Youth)
August, 1983, Beijing. A beautiful curtain with pale blue, yellow, and red design shows up at the fifth floor of a dormitory building. It is a daring act at the time in China. Everything else is gray, dark blue, or green, the Communist colors.
The curtain belongs to a newlywed couple, JIANG, 20, and MING, 22. Both of them are dancers in a singing and dancing troupe. People are surprised by their marriage, because Jiang, a beautiful girl, is the lead dancer while Ming only does bit parts. In spite of other people's opinions, Jiang and Ming are very much in love.
Earning only meager salaries, they also have to share a dormitory room with two other girls. There is only a curtain between their wedding bed and the girls' beds. The girls are wondering: why doesn't this loving new couple make any noise at all at night?
Soon Jiang is pregnant and stops dancing. She helps out in the troupe's kitchen, so she can easily make the foods she craves for. She gets along with the chefs well. Before long people notice that the meals prepared by the troupe kitchen become a lot more delicious, because Jiang has convinced the chefs to try her recipes. Jiang gives birth to a baby boy. They name the boy HUA.
One night MA, the head of the troupe, is awakened in the middle of the night by the police. Jiang and Ming have been arrested in Beihai Park after closing, because they were sleeping together under the trees, on a stack of The People's Daily. Apparently they have been doing this for a long time, even before they were married, like many other poor young lovers at the time in Beijing. They much prefer the romantic open space in the park at night to their crowded dormitory room.
Ma advises this handsome but dim-witted pair not to do it again, but Ming puts up a big fight with Ma. Ming claims, "Why can't we still be in love and act like other lovers after we are married?"
As China develops quickly, the troupe builds many new apartments which are distributed to its employees. Because of Ming's fight with Ma, no matter how hard Ming tries, he and Jiang are passed up for new housing. To make matters worse, Jiang gives birth to a baby girl, REN, which breaks the "one child" law in China. The couple gets plenty of punishment for it, and they are permanently stuck in the same dormitory. The beautiful pale blue, yellow, and red curtain still floats at their window, yet now it is faded and worn.
Ming is transferred to another work unit to be a clothing buyer. Jiang is transferred to manage a restaurant. While Ming doesn't have much to do, Jiang experiments with various recipes in her restaurant. Soon it becomes famous and has a loyal clientele. One day, a very impressed customer, HUMPHREY LIU, 60, a wealthy overseas Chinese lawyer from America, invites Jiang to dinner with some friends at a luxurious restaurant. A friend of Humphrey's tells Jiang that Humphrey is in China to look for a "Mrs. Liu." Humphrey hopes to find someone who is young, beautiful, and an excellent cook. After all the other quests leave, in a private room, Humphrey gently shows his admiration for Jiang -- he touches and kisses Jiang's hand like a prince would do in a fairy tale. But he is a very old prince.
Jiang shares with Ming the details of her experience. Ming is quiet for three days. Then he tells Jiang sincerely, "You should marry Humphrey. Go to America and enjoy the good life I'd never be able to provide to you. This is every Chinese woman's dream. You should grab the opportunity!" Jiang hesitates. Ming pushes her, "I'll never be anybody. I can't even get an apartment for us. I will gladly sacrifice myself as long as you, Hua, and Ren will have a brighter future."
Ming and Jiang are divorced within a week. Jiang brings Ren, 4, with her, to start a new life in America with Humphrey. Once Jiang and Ren have moved into Humphrey's gorgeous mansion in San Francisco, their lives are complicated by other residents there. Humphrey and his ex-wife, NANCY, a Caucasian, had a son, LEWIS. Nancy also had a daughter, SUE, from a previous love affair. When Nancy ran off with another man many years ago, she also left Sue and Lewis behind. Humphrey has tried his best to raise them, but Sue turns out to be an alcoholic, which disappoints Humphrey tremendously. Lewis is a handsome young man without much intellect or ambition. Sue lives in the basement where she raises quite a few rabbits, birds, and cats.
Humphrey is a retired immigration lawyer, born in Shanghai, educated in Hong Kong. Because he grew up in a colonial environment, Humphrey values western influences highly. He speaks perfect formal English and behaves like a colonial gentleman. He also hopes to turn Ren into a classy lady. He awards little Ren candies and money when she recites Shakespeare verses for him.
With Humphrey's help, Ren quickly adjusts to the American life. Humphrey treats Jiang nicely too. But he always keeps a watchful eye over her and gets jealous easily, because he loves her too much. Jiang dutifully fulfils her end of the bargain in this marriage -- she cooks for Humphrey and sleeps with him -- but there is no passionate love.
Four years later, Jiang arranges for Hua, 14, to come to America. Right from the beginning Hua shows signs that he will have a hard time adjusting to his new life. Hua, a gentle, quiet, stubborn, and somewhat slow boy, has a great deal of difficulties in learning English, which his younger sister, Ren, can already command beautifully. His pride and shyness prevent him from asking for help. Humphrey tries to transform Hua into an American boy, like he had done successfully with Ren. But Humphrey quickly realizes that Hua is a lost cause -- Hua refuses to speak English and has no desire to fit in. Humphrey despises Hua, with whom he maintains an awkward and cool relationship. In exchange for room and board in the mansion while attending school, Hua becomes the household handyman, who fixes things around the mansion.
Jiang believes that Hua can soon catch up like his sister. Jiang begs Humphrey to give Hua more time. These six characters, with different shades of skin and speaking various English accents living in Humphrey's mansion, try to be a happy American family.
One day, Hua's English teacher comes to pay a visit. She reveals that Hua doesn't participate in his class activities at all. Hua just dutifully sits through his classes every day without learning any English. After the teacher leaves, Humphrey thunders. Hua, devastated and ashamed, cuts himself badly with broken glass in the bathroom. Jiang rescues him. She realizes that Hua will never fit into mainstream America.
After this incident, Hua moves out of the mansion. He buys an old truck and works as a fast food deliveryman. Jiang visits Hua in his cheap apartment whenever she can convince Humphrey to drive her there. In spite of Humphrey's watchful eyes, Jiang manages to bring food and smuggle retired appliances from Humphrey's mansion to Hua.
Later, Jiang and Hua figure out a way to see each other more often. Every morning Jiang and Humphrey exercise in a nearby park. While Humphrey practices his Tai-Chi, Jiang jogs to another side of the park. This is the only time in the day Jiang can escape from Humphrey's vigilant radar, because he cannot jog as fast, or as far, as Jiang. Frequently Hua would wait in his truck, at the other end of the trail. When Jiang arrives, drinking the warm soybean milk Hua brought, they would chat for a while. Mother and son treasure their secret rendezvous very much.
In order to make some pocket money, Jiang starts a party-catering business. Her dishes are always exquisitely made and taste great. Her service becomes well-known in the Chinese-American community in San Francisco.
While cleaning the wine racks, Jiang discovers that most of the bottles are empty -- Humphrey's expensive collection of wines have all been consumed secretly by Sue. Jiang doesn't have the heart to reveal this to Humphrey. Whenever Humphrey gets excited at dinner parties and wants to open a special bottle of wine, Jiang always manages to convince him not to or substitutes it with a regular bottle. Jiang knows that this secret is a time bomb in the mansion. This secret also symbolizes the lie of her marriage -- it looks fantastic outside, but it is empty inside. Jiang wonders: when will this time bomb go off?
Meanwhile Lewis, Jiang's stepson, has graduated from college. He works as a junior supervisor in a hotel and is mostly interested in sports and stocks. Jiang is aware that Lewis is furtively infatuated with her. His eyes linger on Jiang's still youthful and beautiful body. But recently Jiang notices that Lewis' eyes have shifted from herself to Ren, his budding pretty stepsister, with whom he is not blood-related. Instinctively Jiang puts out hints to seduce Lewis, so she can protect Ren from him. Jiang would rather sacrifice herself than lose another precious one to the wealthy and the powerful. Jiang's strategy works. At least it diverts Lewis' attention back to Jiang temporarily.
From Hua, Jiang learns that Ming has come to San Francisco. He is teaching social dances to older Chinese ladies at a nightclub. Jiang avoids seeing Ming. She suspects that they are still very much in love. Seeing each other will get them into trouble. One day when Jiang is catering a party, Ming shows up unexpectedly. He misses Jiang too much. Jiang's earlier suspicion is confirmed. She and Ming connect again immediately. Despite Ming's unsophisticated manners, by American standards, everything about him is so familiar to Jiang. Having experienced so much together in their youth, they understand each other without having to say any words. They know each other's every move. This emotional encounter pushes Jiang's life off balance. Ming would love to see Ren, but Ren is hesitant. For her, Humphrey is her "real" father. After all, Humphrey has educated her and provided for her as long as she can remember. Frustrated, Ming sometimes goes to her expensive private school to observe her activities from a distance.
One morning, Ming comes to meet Jiang at the park. They joke and chat just like when they were young lovers in the Beihai Park in Beijing. Ming wants to borrow forty thousand dollars from Jiang as the down payment to buy a small house for Hua and himself. Hoping to gradually pull her broken family back together again in America, Jiang gladly loans Ming the money, even though that's her total savings.
Jiang wonders: how much longer Humphrey will live? She also fantasizes how she will decorate Ming and her future love nest. Jiang realizes that ten years ago, without consciously knowing it, she and Ming had played a wicked trick on Humphrey. They had used Humphrey to smuggle their underprivileged family members, one by one, to America. Now they can all meet up and enjoy an affluent life together. Jiang and Ming didn't plan it this way, but it is the way turning out. They have acted just like many desperate immigrants who would use any tricks to come to America and stay. Humphrey was a shrewd immigration lawyer, but somehow he had allowed himself be trapped. Instead of buying a house right away, Ming follows the advice of his "old lady" students and deposits the forty thousand dollars in a Chinese investment company. He hopes to make some profit first, so he can buy a bigger and nicer house for Jiang. Sold by that idea, Jiang agrees to loan Ming more money.
While Jiang is taking her last jewelry out of her safe, Humphrey tells her the bad news -- Hua was in a terrible car accident. Jiang rushes to the hospital and is devastated to see Hua wrapped in bandages. She pleads to the manager of the hospital kitchen to let her make some scallion pancakes for Hua. The scallion pancakes, very cheap food, are Hua's favorite. Ming and Ren also arrive. Four members of this broken family are finally reunited. Hua, quietly looking at his father, mother, and sister, seems to be pleading: Can we be a family again? Even if we are poor and have to eat scallion pancakes all the time, we'll be happy. Jiang answers him, "Yes, son, after tasting all the luxurious foods, scallion pancakes are the most delicious!"
This is the first time Ren sees her father after she left China as a little girl. From then on, Jiang arranges for Ren and Ming to get together at fast food cafes.But the meetings often are awkward and unpleasant. Ming keeps mentioning the fun details, like when Ren was a naughty little baby in Beijing, but Ren doesn't remember any of it. Ren is incredulous when she finds out that Ming has been secretly observing her activities in school and her interactions with Humphrey. She angrily calls Ming a "creep." She complains loudly in her fluent English, which Ming doesn't understand.
Ren thinks Ming is vulgar, uneducated, and disgusting. Ming feels humiliated and sad. He has sacrificed so much for a better life for Jiang and Ren, and now this is what he gets. Jiang pacifies them both. She prays that one day when they have their own house, Ren and Ming will love each other again.
Because of margin calls from the Chinese investment company, Ming desperately needs more money from Jiang, but Jiang has exhausted her resources. She has sold her diamond rings, mink coat, and bonds. She has even emptied the education fund Humphrey set up for Ren. She has deftly maneuvered her ways and smuggled funds out of the mansion without being detected by Humphrey. Since Ming can't get any more help from Jiang, he has to borrow money from his dance students.
One day in December, Hua shows up at the mansion and informs Jiang that the manger of the Chinese investment company has disappeared with millions of dollars and is wanted by the police. The manger has stolen a lot of people's savings, including housewives and low-income new immigrants. Ming's dance students call Jiang urgently and ask Jiang to pay back the fifty thousand dollars Ming borrowed from them.
On Christmas Eve, Humphrey finally discovers that Sue has drunk all his expensive wines. He decides to put Sue into an alcohol rehabilitation program at a treatment center. When the nurses come to take Sue away, she walks out of the mansion towards the waiting van, acting like a martyr.
Jiang finds Ming hiding in his shabby apartment. She is sad to see the second-hand golf clubs and sports clothing in Ming's closet, which Ming bought from the flea market. He hoped to enjoy this rich man's sport when he became wealthy with his investments. Jiang also discovers that Ming has collected a lot of cheap motel soaps, shampoos, disposable shavers, and combs, gathering dust in his filthy bathroom. Jiang wonders: why does Ming have this junk? She knows that if she didn't marry Humphrey ten years ago, she probably would be in the same position as Ming, collecting the same junk.
Ming plans quietly to leave for Beijing the next day, to avoid his creditors. Even though Jiang begs Ming to stay one more day so she can pack up and leave with him, deep down she knows that she would not do that. They have grown too far apart, no matter how much they had loved and how much they still care about each other. When they made the naive and fateful decision to divorce twelve years ago, They each embarked on a very different path. This they cannot change.
Jiang decides to tell Humphrey everything and let him decide the future of their marriage. She writes down all her lies and deceptions in a letter and asks Ren to send it out as registered mail to Humphrey. Now Jiang is waiting at the mansion for Humphrey to receive the letter. Then everything will be over. This will happen any day now...
And so goes the story of a "Happy American Family."
--Synopsis/script treatment by Emily Liu. Used with permission.
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