This adoption saga is no fairy tale 

The scene is Guangzhou. There is a tight shot on the sweet, petrified face of Fang Sui Yong. She is an 8-year-old orphan, with a clubfoot, and she is meeting her adoptive-mother-to-be for the first time.

The stranger tells her: “Your name is Faith, you are my daughter, you will come home with me to America.”

The deeply involving moment — evoking concern, compassion, sadness and hope — is in Stephanie Wang-Breal’s brilliant documentary, “Wo ai ni [I love you] Mommy,” about an American adopting a child from China.

The world premiere, screening Sunday at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, is as compelling and memorable as great feature films about a child lost in an alien culture.

But here’s a spoiler: After nail-biting suspense and intense involvement with the people in the film, viewers witness a “normal” 11-year-old American called Faith. Yet the story is no fairy tale. It’s all too real and totally believable — warts and all.

The film’s other star is Donna Sadowsky, a Jewish mother of two boys and another Chinese child, whom she and her husband adopted when the girl was 14 months old.

Sadowsky is a woman with a big heart and no nonsense. If at first you wonder why she takes on more and more responsibility, at the end you admire her not only for what she does, but how she goes about it.

After a long and arduous application process filled with emotion, Sadowsky travels to China to adopt Sui Yong, who is older than most of the 70,000 Chinese children — mostly babies or toddlers — adopted by Americans. But she disregards custom and statistics; this is to be her daughter.

After the first meeting with what she identifies as a “white person,” the girl, a veteran of orphanages and a Chinese foster family, goes on a fascinating, stressful journey. There are unexpected turns and developments, all with documentary veracity as well as a sense of a great novel.

Amazingly, first-time director Wang-Breal captures both the reality and the truth of her subjects’ encounters and the clash of cultures.

It’s reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” except that much is found in “Wo ai ni Mommy” — instead of being lost.

Unlike most popular feature films, which are as empty as popcorn boxes after they end, “Wo ai ni Mommy” will stay with you.

Wo ai ni [I Love You] Mommy

Four stars

Featuring Donna Sadowsky, Fang Sui Yong
Directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal
Not rated
Running time 1 hour 16 minutes
Note: The film screens At 3:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., S.F. Call (415) 346-3243 or

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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