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The Wedding Banquet (1993)

January 16th, 2008 · 4 Comments

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Synopsis
“When will you marry?” The words of Mrs. Gao (Ah Lei Gua) play as her son in America – Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) – exercises and listens to her messages on cassette tape. Mrs. Gao announces that she’s enrolled him in a Taipei singles club, and to expect a form in the mail for him to describe his perfect woman. Wai is a workaholic Yuppie in Manhattan who unknown to his parents, lives with his American boyfriend, Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein).

Wai’s capital is tied up in a rundown building he owns. One of his tenants – a destitute painter named Wei-Wei (May Chin) – lives in a storage space. Wei-Wei is convinced she’ll be caught by Immigration and returned to China soon. Wai permits her to pay her rent with her artwork, but resists her amorous advances. Simon proposes a way for Wai to resolve the tension with his parents and for Wei-Wei to stay in the U.S.

Wai’s parents arrive in New York for their son’s wedding to Wei-Wei. Father (Sihung Lung) is a retired army general whose only wish is to have Wai produce a grandson. Simon is passed off as Wai’s landlord and attempts to instill some domesticity in Wei-Wei. Wai hopes to satisfy his parents and get them on a plane back to Taiwan. He refuses to allow them to throw a wedding banquet and instead, forces them to suffer the indignity of a civil ceremony at City Hall.

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Dining out, Mr. Gao is recognized by his former driver, Chen (Tien Pien). Chen owns the restaurant, and is insulted that a man as respected as his former commander should suffer a wedding dinner so puny. Chen throws a grand banquet, inviting some 200 guests and sponsoring revelry into the night. Wai has so much to drink that he is unable to resist Wei-Wei’s advances in the honeymoon suite. This strains Wai’s relationship with Simon, and threatens to expose his lie to his parents before they can return to Taiwan.

Production history 
Ang Lee came to NYU from Taiwan to study filmmaking. His thesis short film Fine Line won major recognition and upon graduation in 1984, Ang assumed he would immediately begin making Chinese language films. A friend named Neil Peng knew someone who lived a double life with an American lover. When his parents visited, he would rearrange the house and pretend the boyfriend was his landlord. Ang felt that this was the first half of a movie, and wrote a script with Peng titled The Wedding Banquet.

Unable to obtain financing in the U.S. because the script was in Chinese, rejected in Taiwan because of its gay subject matter, the project languished. In 1989, Ang discovered a script competition sponsored by the Taiwanese government. He came up with a script about a retired tai-chi master titled Pushing Hands. It won 1st place. Accepting his award in Taiwan, Ang was approached by Central Motion Pictures, which put up the money for him to make it his debut feature film.

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Though it did not fare well outside of Asia, Pushing Hands was such a hit in Taiwan that the studio requested a follow up. Producers James Schamus and Ted Hope had formed a company called Good Machine, catering to “no budget” filmmakers in New York. They wanted to work with Ang, but Schamus felt The Wedding Banquet needed work for it to cross over in the west. After Schamus helped with a rewrite, the picture was a major critical and commercial success, becoming the highest grossing movie ever in Taiwan.

Opinion 
The film was refreshingly original in its day and helped establish Ang Lee in Hollywood, but 15 years has not been kind to The Wedding Banquet, a noble effort that unfortunately is riddled with amateurism on almost every front. Script, casting, music and camerawork all come across as constricted. While this was a low budget movie, it only seems like a quarter of its $1 million financing really got on the screen.

While The Wedding Banquet has emotions that at times feel real – like Mrs. Gao breaking down over the indignity of her son’s City Hall marriage – the script is built around conceits that never amount to anything more than plot points. With the exception of Sihung Ling and Ah Lei Gua – who are terrific as the parents – the casting is weak. And Ang doesn’t seem comfortable behind the camera. Even the big wedding banquet sequence feels bottled up and stiff.

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James Berardinelli at reelviews writes, “There is enough depth in this picture to fill up several movies, yet The Wedding Banquet shortchanges none of its interwoven storylines. While I won’t go so far as to say that this is a magical motion picture, it certainly serves as excellent entertainment on more than one level.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Father/son relationship · Unconventional romance

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Evans // Jan 17, 2008 at 5:24 am

    I saw this one so long ago that I barely remember it but I think I found it an un usual and interesting first effort. The thing about Ang Lee as I wrote when I reviewed “Lust, Caution” on my blog recently is that he is not afraid to try his hand at many different genres and usually comes off remarkably well. That said, I did think his latest a bit of a drag, despite all the sex on display.

  • 2 cjKennedy // Jan 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I haven’t seen this one for many years either. Ang Lee has always sort of begun with Eat Drink Man Woman for me and I forget about Pushing Hands and Wedding Banquet. Perhaps it’s time to have another look.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jan 17, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Patricia: “Unusual and interesting first effort” sums it up better than I could. The Wedding Banquet is far better than the American movies with “wedding” in the title I guess; The Wedding Planner, The Wedding Date and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    Craig: It’s reasonable that you would have overlooked Ang’s earlier efforts. The two films you mentioned are really in a separate class from Eat Drink Man Woman, which I’ll have something to say about later in the week.

  • 4 Andy // Jul 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I can only agree with your review. Time has really not been kind to this film, I mean, I understand that it was a trend-setter for films which deal with homosexuality and culture, such as Mambo Italiano (Italian culture), Touch of Pink (Indian culture) or East Side Story (Latin American culture). The only problem is that these films were all better than The Wedding Banquet.

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