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Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

January 19th, 2008 · 6 Comments

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Synopsis
Retired master chef Chu (Sihung Lung) spends Sunday laboring in the kitchen, preparing a restaurant-sized meal for his daughters. Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang) is a high school teacher who has devoted her life to Jesus Christ since her college boyfriend broke up with her years ago. Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien Wu) is a busy corporate executive who indulges in some afternoon sex with an ex-boyfriend. The youngest – Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang) – works at Wendy’s.

The women live with their father in Taipei, but Jia-Chien announces that she’s put a deposit on a condo and is moving out. Before Chu can react, he departs to rescue his former employer from a banquet party disaster. He confides to his friend Old Wen (Jui Wang) that he wishes all his daughters would move out so that he could lead a quiet life. They believe their father has remained a widower out of obligation to them, oblivious to his feelings for Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang), a young single mother and friend of the family.

Chu’s daughters are even more repressed when it comes to love than he is. Jia-Chien is attracted to a hotshot negotiator (Winston Chao) at work and debates taking a promotion that would send her to Amsterdam. Jia-Jen becomes fixated on a men’s volleyball coach and soon begins receiving anonymous love letters at school. Jia-Ning develops feelings for the on-again/off-again boyfriend of one of her fast food co-workers.

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As her platonic relationship with the negotiator deepens, Jia-Chien reveals that her dream was to become a master chef like her father. She resents him sending her to college instead. The only means of communication between father and daughter is food. Chu makes an impression on Jin-Rong’s daughter by taking her gourmet meals to school each day, while her grandmother (Ah Lei Gua) zeroes in on the widower romantically, unaware of whom he truly loves.

Production history 
After the international success of The Wedding Banquet, director Ang Lee was suddenly in demand by Hollywood. Ang preferred to establish himself as a Chinese filmmaker and accepted an invitation to shoot his next project in Taiwan instead. He’d developed a script with Hui-Ling Wang titled Eat Drink Man Woman, which would again focus on a classical Chinese father – again played by Sihung Lung – who is gradually brought out of his shell by changes in family values.

As with his previous film, Ang turned to associate producer and co-writer James Schamus to rewrite the script. Schamus had never been to Taipei and went to the library to bone up on his Chinese culture. Ang was not happy with the rewrites, which seemed artificial to him. Schamus responded by giving the characters Jewish names and rewriting the script as if it was a big Jewish family. Schamus changed the names back and when Ang read the script, the director responded that it finally sounded like a Chinese family.

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In addition to a $1.5 million budget – twice that of The Wedding Banquet – Ang also had the luxury of shooting in a country without union regulations. Without the pressure of a tight schedule, the film was shot over a relaxed 60-day period. With much more time to think about the film, the result was by far the most refined work of Ang’s young career. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and became a crossover hit at the U.S. box office.

Opinion 
If there were an award for Greatest Food Movie of All Time, Eat Drink Man Woman would be one of the nominees. This would have been a good film with its culinary delights alone – five chefs were employed by the production – but what makes it great is how food is used as a substitute for a father unable to express feelings to his daughters any other way. The result is a work of sensuality and wit that avoids becoming a junk food course, or pandering down to the clichés of your typical drama/comedy.

The script has the density of a novel in the way each character is given a secret inner life separate from their family. Like a novel, it also has the tendency to run on, but the film is exceptionally well cast. Sihung Lung is remarkable as the repressed chef, while Chien-Lien Wu has tremendous verve as his middle – and perhaps favorite – daughter. Nearly every scene resonates with so much life. Remade in 2001 as Tortilla Soup, shifting the family to a Mexican American one and starring Hector Elizondo as the patriarch.

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Joe Shieh at KFC Cinema writes, “Perhaps the biggest forte of this film is Ang Lee’s ability to take his camera and capture the beauty of Taiwan. He shows us the streets of Taiwan, the kitchens of Taiwan, the apartments of Taiwan, the countrysides of Taiwan, and so much more. Being from Taiwan myself, the scenery gave me a fresh taste of something I had seen so many times in my life, yet it was served to me with such delicacy, it was like a new experience.”

“Even if it weren’t a good movie, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman would still be a mouth-watering advertisement for Chinese food: The only way this film won’t make you hungry is if you’ve gorged yourself on dim sum before you pop it in the DVD player,” writes Betsy Bozdech at The DVD Journal.

Edwin Jahiel at Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel writes, “Much of the story is like a soap opera, or should I say a soup opera. But unlike soaps or melodramas, it has a rather charming aloofness, a kind of delicate attitude that seems to mistrust Hollywoodian or European histrionics and emoting. With discreet humor and no traces of fanfare or grandiloquence, the film conveys beautifully the difficulties of being oneself and of being part of a family.”

“Hello? Have you eaten? Not yet?” View the opening credits sequence for Eat Drink Man Woman, one of the best adverts for Chinese cuisine ever made.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Father/daughter relationship · Master and pupil

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sir jorge // Jan 19, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    i thought this film was quite cool

  • 2 Joseph R. Valdez // Jan 20, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Dear # 1 son,
    Thought this was a classic review of a great film.
    The use of food as a metaphor means of loving expression is something that would have escaped lesser appetites for thought and truth.

    If you’re on the run, make mine to go.

    Dad

  • 3 Moviezzz // Jan 20, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Great review.

    The thing I remember most about the film (which, come to think of it, I don’t remember if I ever saw) was a joke that came out at the time of its release.

    On I think it was Saturday Night Live, they described the title as being inspired by how Arnold Schwarzenegger asked Maria Shriver out to dinner.

    I can’t think of the film without remembering that joke.

  • 4 cjKennedy // Jan 24, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Very nice review of a terrific film. Makes me want to watch it again…and eat Chinese.

  • 5 Pat Evans // Jan 25, 2008 at 4:27 am

    It’s one of those really yummy movies, along with “Babette’s Feast”

  • 6 Joe Valdez // Jan 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Jorge: Thanks for sharing. I know it isn’t easy for a man who writes a horror blog and a WWE blog to admit in public that he liked a romantic comedy. Your new site design looks sharp.

    Dad: Watching the film a second time, it occurred to me that the daughters barely touch the food; there’s usually some kind of unspoken tension at the table instead. This could be interpreted as taking their family for granted.

    Moviezzz: That joke must have come along during the Will Ferrell/Cheri Oteri/Chris Kattan era and could be the funniest thing said on Saturday Night Live all year. I can’t believe I’ve seen a movie you haven’t. I highly recommend adding this one to your rental queue.

    Craig: I suddenly got in the mood for sweet and sour shrimp just by reading your comment.

    Patricia: I haven’t seen Babette’s Feast. Thanks for adding another one onto my rental queue.

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