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Friday Film Review: The Wedding Banquet

The Wedding Banquet (1993)

Genre: Romantic/GLBT/Comedy

Grade: B

This is one of Ang Lee’s earlier movies and he uses it to show a cross cultural match up of Taiwanese and American, GLBT and straight. It’s got humor, love of many kinds, a bit of pathos and a lot of understanding – even if not everybody realizes they’re in on it at the same time. Oh, and it’s got a wedding – which is blah – and a wedding banquet – which is a blast.

Wai Tong Gao (Winston Chao) is a successful businessman living in New York with his lover Simon (Mitchell Lichenstein). Wai’s traditional parents pressure him to find the perfect (Chinese) girl, get married and present them with a grandchild. Tired of them spending money on a singles club in order to find him a bride, Wai and Simon hatch a plot for Wai to marry one of his tenants Wei Wei (May Chin) who needs a green card to stay in America. She gets to stay, the parents are happy and will hopefully leave Wai – and Simon – alone to get on with their happy lives.

Thinking they only have to fool the INS (now ICE), Wei Wei and Wai work on getting to know each other enough to pass the immigration tests. Only when the Gaos suddenly announce they’re coming to NYC to see the wedding, it throws everyone into a panic. Still, if the three conspirators can hold it together and remember their roles for two weeks, all will be well. That is until Simon takes them all out to dinner after the ceremony where they discover an old comrade of Mr. Gao’s who insists on throwing a wedding banquet for the couple to honor his old commander.

After an alcohol filled and riotous party, the bridal couple is put to bed where things, er, get out of hand. Now an ill Mr. Gao delays the older couple’s departure and tempers begin to heat up and fray as the deception drags on. Will Simon, Wai and Wei Wei be able to conceal the truth from Wai’s parents? And what will happen to Simon and Wai’s relationship when the results of the wedding night become known?

Lee manages the whole meeting of cultures and lifestyles with a light and deft hand. The plot could have bogged down in overly sentimental moments, such as during the ceremonies or the points when the Gaos separately learn or admit knowledge of what’s been going on, but doesn’t. Instead, the scenes are brief or lightened with humor such as when Mr. Gao’s wedding speech induces Wei Wei to start crying and the entire female contingent rushes her off to prevent ruining her makeup. A fight between Simon and Wai after weeks of frustration boil over makes their relationship more real instead of being too, too perfect.

The “pull out all the stops” wedding banquet is a riot explained, says one guest, as 5,000 years of sexual repression let loose for this occasion. The ritual wedding humiliations – from two cultures! – including excessive toasts that render Wai and Wei Wei more than sloshed, are enough to make the actions which follow a bit more believable. The twin pressures from Wai’s Asian heritage: his parent’s wish for a daughter-in-law then grandchildren and the “still not as accepting of being homosexual” culture work together to make what could have been a hard plot to swallow more understandable and acceptable.

I really like that here is a movie featuring a gay couple that isn’t centered on disease or coming out or any other political agenda. It’s just two men who love each other and want to live together. They have their good times and they have some arguments along the way. They have friends, they have jobs, they have a life. They look after each other, sacrifice for each other and in the end, along with Wei Wei they’ll develop a new family dynamic that works for them. But this isn’t the only relationship Lee shows us. We get triple bonus points in the sweet view of the Gao’s relationship which has obviously weathered some storms in the past from what Mrs. Gao tells Wei Wei, a touching scene between Wei Wei and her new MIL – where we see how much the older woman’s presence means to the younger woman whose own parents can’t be there, and a final scene of Mr. Gao’s acceptance of Simon as a second son.

The way the characters interact and obviously care for each other is another reason why this film works so well for me. Plus they seem real. Wai is a successful business man but also a deeply loving and respectful son. Simon and Wai seem like any other couple instead of being poster boys for a cause. Wei Wei starts out just going for the green card yet discovers in the Gaos substitute parents and in the men, two fathers for her child. It might be an odd arrangement but for them it works. I also felt a great deal of sympathy for these people. Yes, the Gaos pressure their son but after the upheaval of their lives and the difficulty of Wai’s birth, I see how much the future, through their son and grandchildren, means to them. Poor Simon is just trying to help everyone out and ends up precipitating the whole mess then having to watch the man he loves marry someone else, even if Wai’s not really in romantic love with his bride.

Like another film I reviewed, “Saving Face,” this one is a modern mix of Gay life and Asian culture without being strictly of either genre. It has its funny moments, thoughtful times and moving scenes. It makes me glad that the “Newlywed Invasion” isn’t an contemporary American custom – though perhaps it’s better than the old shivarees. It doesn’t point fingers or make a case that either side is right or wrong but allows viewers to decide as it goes along – or perhaps still be thinking as the credits are rolling. B

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

19 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:13:18

    I love this movie. It’s not as great as “Eat Drink Man Woman,” widely considered Ang’s greatest non-action Taiwanese film (tough to beat “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), but it’s wonderful. It’s interesting to watch these movies and compare them to the American films he’s made. None of them, not even “Chasing Woodstock,” have the humorous warmth his three early films have.

  2. Jayne
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:16:47

    @Dabney: EDMW is a great film too. I’d love to be able to sit down at their dinner table and bask in the atmosphere.

  3. srs
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:18:34

    I really love this movie. It is funny and sweet without being overly saccharine. I agree that the relationships b/w all the characters are great and what makes the movie memorable.

  4. Dabney
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:28:35

    @Jayne: The other thing that was so great about those movies when they came out is the lens they gave average (indie filming watching) Americans. I knew nothing about life in Taiwan before I saw the early Lee films. I remember being shocked at how progressive and modern much of the culture seemed–especially compared to the American South where I was living when the films came out.

  5. Shelly
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 10:54:03

    @Dabney: I love The Wedding Banquet but I agree that Eat Drink Man Woman is MUCH better. It is one of my favorite family dynamics/sister dramas of all time. But Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors. (Don’t forget that he directed Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet… another one of my favorite sister movies and may be a close second to EDMW.) I remembered when they tried to do the Mexican American remake of EDMW — Tortilla Soup. Gah! It was awful! They tried to redo it scene for scene but it wasn’t the same.

  6. Dabney
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 11:16:42

    @Shelly: I think his later films have been great. They just don’t have the lightness of his first three. I mean, “Brokeback Mountain” is about as heavy as you can get!

  7. Shelly
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 11:20:14

    @Dabney: Oh, please, LOL, MOST of his movies make me teary-eyed. Including EDMW. I think it was the scene at the end with the daughter and father. Brokeback Mountain was a sob fest. The exception was of course… The HULK. Or maybe I’m just weepy. Damn you, Ang Lee! LOL

  8. Tellulah Darling
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 11:54:59

    I love this film. There is something wonderful, for me, about movies centering around culture, connection and food. It makes me also think of great films like Big Night, Chocolat, Babette’s Feast or Tampopo.

  9. Dabney
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 12:29:20

    @Shelly: Missed “The Hulk.” Did I miss much?

  10. Shelly
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 12:42:44

    @Dabney: In my humble opinion… NO!!! Not even with the killer combinaton of Ang Lee and the ever-so-yummy Eric Bana. But then again, I’m not much of a action movie fan. I couldn’t make it through it.

  11. Jayne
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 18:11:18

    @Shelly: I had wondered about Tortilla Soup and if I should try it…

  12. Sandia
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:41:10

    I loved this movie, and am always amazed at how well Ang Lee captures the inherent confusion/maybe not the right word…/struggle maybe of being specifically a Taiwanese American immigrant who’s been westernized, but still feels a very strong tie to our culture. I always felt that he used Simon as an additional expression of Wai’s own westernization – the mixed race relationship between Simon and Wai was just as much of a difficult struggle reveal to his parents as his homosexuality. This may sound weird, but when I was younger felt very much the same struggle as there’s a feeling that you should always stay and look within your own culture, but not always ending up with someone that is – and I always thought that Simon was used as a shorthand for this struggle for people who may not have ever felt that…. I probably always overanalyzed that part of the movie, but I think that’s why I’ve always consistently loved this movie more than EDMW for really being able to show that culture clash/struggle so successfully.

  13. Christina
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 15:29:43

    @Jayne: Tortilla Soup was pretty much a scene by scene version of EDMW. Although Hector Elizondo was in it as the father, the movie just didnt have the same feel as the original, maybe it is because I knew it was a remake and kept on comparing it to it.

    For me EDMW had a bigger impact for me because my family is from Taiwan and my dad is a chef also, I sometimes saw my family as that family. It is still one of my favorite movies about family and food and about Taiwan.

  14. Sherry Thomas
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 11:33:00

    What I always remember from the movie was a fun little detail on the difference between girls from Taiwan and the girls from mainland China.

    A girl from Taiwan is introduced to the hero at the airport–or some such–and she automatically leaves her luggage for him to haul.

    But Wei Wei, who is from mainland China, meets his parents at the airport, she hauls their luggage.

    Perhaps today girls from mainland are different, but this movie is from 20 years ago–Women hold up half of the sky, we were always told. Besides, if you let a guy carry your stuff, the things your classmates would say. :-)

  15. Andy
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 10:50:31

    I cannot quite understand the enthusiasm people have about 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). To a certain extend it may have also paved the way for My Big Fat Greek Wedding while it also uses elements of Green Card. But I basically think that the films that followed were all a little bit better than The Wedding Banquet.

  16. Jayne
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 18:42:34

    @Andy: Well, I’ve seen most of the films you mention (I don’t remember ever seeing East Side Story) and while they were okay for me, TWB tops them for me. Green Card probably comes closest to being as good with the others being slightly paler imitations.

  17. Andy
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 02:25:31

    @Jayne: Thanks for the feedback. Yes, The Weddong Banquet also reminded me a little bit of Green Card. I also wrote that in my review because I have just reviewed The Wedding Banquet for my online film magazine. If you’re interested in gay themed movies, the site may be interesting for you: http://gayfilmmagazine.com/?p=2284
    You will also find information about East Side Story there.

  18. Jayne
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 06:34:04

    @Andy: Yes, I am interested and thank you for the link. I’ll be sure to check it out. Trying to find ones to recommend here based on the Netflix ratings is a bit like walking into a pitch black room with a blindfold on and stumbling around with my arms stretched out so any help is appreciated.

  19. Andy
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 12:29:45

    @Jayne: That’s great. If you like, please leave some comments and let me know what you think of the films on my site.
    I’m always happy when my reviews are helpful to others, I mean, of course they are subjective but I always try to give advisory reviews, so people can decide whether or not they might like a film.

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