The Wedding Banquet Movie Review

Love is never easy, especially when you're a closeted homosexual and your parents travel 8,000 miles to attend your sham wedding while your lover nervously assumes the role of bogus best man. That may sound like a setup for a screwball farce, but The Wedding Banquet turns out to be a thoughtful and ultimately deeply moving story about family ties, tradition, and acceptance. As the film that put writer/director Ang Lee on the map, it's a must-see for anyone who's enjoyed his subsequent work, especially Eat Drink Man Woman and The Ice Storm, both equally powerful meditations on damaged families with serious communication issues.

Though much of the dialogue in The Wedding Banquet is in Chinese, the action takes place in New York. Taiwanese expatriate Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) is living a fast-paced Manhattan life as a budding real estate wheeler-dealer. He lives in a lovely Greenwich Village townhouse with his affable doctor boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein). Wai-Tung's biggest problem: The constant long-distance phone calls from his parents (Ah Lei Gua and Sihung Lung) wondering when their beloved only son is finally going to get married.

When the parental pressure becomes too much, Simon suggests that Wai-Tung marry Wei-Wei (May Chin), another expat who lives in one of Wai-Tung's buildings. She needs a break on the rent and a green card. He needs a wife to silence his parents. Everyone will win. A City Hall ceremony is scheduled.

Things start to go wrong when Wai-Tung's parents suddenly show up for the wedding. Simon and Wai-Tung race around the house taking down all the male nudes and replacing them with Chinese calligraphy scrolls just in the nick of time. Mom and Dad settle in for an extended stay, and they like Wei-Wei immediately, but they're horrified by the civil ceremony and by the perfunctory restaurant dinner that follows. An old friend of the family who's a big Chinatown restaurant tycoon offers a solution: He'll throw the happy couple a huge traditional wedding banquet.

But sometimes traditions are bad ideas. As a result of the traditional excessive drinking and the traditional goading of their friends, Wei-Wei ends up pregnant, and Wai-Tung has no good explanation for the furious Simon. Now that all five are living in the townhouse, the tension is thick. Wei-Wei doesn't want a baby, Wai-Tung feels totally trapped, Simon is the affronted odd man out, but Mom and Dad couldn't be happier.

The important decisions that each of the five faces are played out in an intricate series of small scenes that feel totally true despite the slightly forced nature of the plot. Most touching are the moments when Wai-Tung's mother speaks to Wei-Wei about her dreams for her son, dreams she slowly begins to realize may never come true. Simon wonders how such a tangled situation, one he created after all, can ever resolve itself happily. And Wai-Tung is crushed by guilt over his many deceptions and is fearful of losing Simon forever.

Lee orchestrates most of the action within the confines of the house, only adding to the tension and the claustrophobia as the family's secrets begin to emerge. What started out funny becomes intensely dramatic, and you'll find yourself fervently hoping that all five, each of whom has only the best intentions at heart, can find paths to acceptance and forgiveness.

Aka Hsi yen.

Who's ready to disco?


Comments

The Wedding Banquet Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1993

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