Wedding Banquet, The (1993)

Review #1,545

Director:  Lee Ang
Cast:  Winston Chao, May Chin, Lung Sihung, Gua Ah-Lei, Mitchell Lichtenstein
Plot:  To satisfy his nagging parents, a gay landlord and a female tenant agree to a marriage of convenience, but his parents arrive to visit and things get out of hand.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama / Romance
Awards:  Won Golden Bear (Berlin).  Won 5 Golden Horses - Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay.  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  106 mins
Rating:  R21 for homosexual theme
Source:  Good Machine

“I don't know, we should have moved you out.”
“I'll survive.”
“Not if Wei Wei keeps cooking.”

Only Lee Ang’s second feature, and the second entry of his “Father Knows Best” trilogy that includes Pushing Hands (1991) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), The Wedding Banquet is entertaining in a contrived way, which works to its advantage as a cross-cultural piece that sees Lee showing a great grasp of characterisation and relational dynamics.  

The plotting is straightforward as it reveals its conundrum through a mix of pathos and comedy of errors: Wai-Tung (Winston Chao in his acting debut) lives with his American companion, Simon, in the States.  The former’s parents, back in Taiwan, pressures him to get married early so that they could have a grandchild.  They, of course, do not know that he is gay.  

Wai-Tung tries to placate them by planning a marriage of convenience with one of his tenants, Wei-Wei, who likes him and hopes to get her green card in a prospective win-win scenario.  But when Wai-Tung’s parents pay a visit, things get real messy…

The Wedding Banquet toes the fine line between heartfelt drama and light-hearted comedy effortlessly.  It is a film of warmth in spite of the all-round deception at play.  While the performances of Winston Chao, Mitchell Lichtenstein (Simon) and May Chin (Wei-Wei) do feel staged as if they had been rehearsed to death, the trio have good chemistry together.  

The parents, played by Lung Sihung (who is the face of the trilogy) and Gua Ah-Lei (who gives the film’s best performance) with such naturalism, become the emotional anchor of the film.  It is fair to say that while we enjoy the banter amongst the younger cast, it is the veteran duo who give the film gravitas, transforming it into a movie of layered emotions and hidden feelings.

One of the most accessible and ‘mainstream’ foreign films to have won the Golden Berlin Bear (an award Lee would win again for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility), The Wedding Banquet not only serves as a primer to Eat Drink Man Woman (with its themes of food and marriage), but in retrospect, suitably informs his later works, specifically Brokeback Mountain (2005), which deals with gay themes with uncommon nuance, as well as Lust, Caution (2007), which explores the art of deception with much higher individual and historical stakes.  

Verdict:  Lee Ang’s entertaining second feature toes the fine line between heartfelt drama and light-hearted comedy effortlessly.




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