AT THIS year's Sundance Film Festival, mecca of independent cinema in the United States, Tony Chan walked away with an audience prize for best screenplay for a film he had finished only hours before. His first film, Combination Platter was accepted by organisers on the strength of a few scenes and the finished movie, set in a Chinese Restaurant in New York's Flushing, was completed on a shoestring budget of US$250,000 (HK$1.9 million). Recently it was screened at the New Films New Directors Festival in New York and picked up a glowing review from The New York Times. The 23-year-old director is now eager to have Combination Platter shown in Hongkong. ''The film has some questions Hongkong people should ask themselves,'' he said. ''Is it really worth living the way many of the characters in the film do in order to get a green card? ''After all, many new arrivals are going to end up working in a restaurant.'' The main plot in Combination Platter follows Robert, a young waiter who has recently arrived from Hongkong. To secure a green card he starts dating an American girl but is increasingly uncomfortable with the deceit. The material for the film is at least 80 per cent factual according to Chan, who spent the past 10 years working in his parent's restaurant. His parents emigrated to the US from Hongkong, opening a restaurant in Flushing. After graduating from film school Chan borrowed from family and friends to pay for Combination Platter. Filming in his parents' restaurant meant a free location. The film uses the restaurant as a metaphor for a multi-cultural society. It looks at the way the Chinese waiters regard their Caucasian customersand the relationships between the Cantonese waiters, the Mandarin-speaking chefs and the non-Chinese speakingstaff. ''I think the film covers new ground,'' Chan said. ''It isn't just a film about getting a green card or about a few immigrants. It is about communication between races.'' He is working on a new screenplay but finds it hard to get down to writing because of the business side of film making - he has been invited to 15 film festivals around the world. But he describes the process of negotiating distribution for the film as ''a game of ping pong''. Distributors are interested but cautious. Balanced against the critical praise is the lack of ''recognised'' actors and the extensive use of subtitles. But Chan hopes the film will finally bring Asian American cinema to a wider audience.