The Wedding Banquet (1993): The Ideal Family is One that Loves Each Other

Ang Lee and I have a somewhat turbulent relationship. His Taiwan-based movies, like Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), I find hugely entertaining and poignant. The more traditional Hollywood fare such as The Ice Storm (1997) and Hulk (2003), not so much – in fact, can I have my time back? Given that The Wedding Banquet (1993) was early on in his career (it’s his second film) and deals largely with Taiwanese culture, I was hoping for the former category and I was not disappointed.

Synopsis: A gay Taiwanese-American (Wai-Tung) agrees to marry a woman in need of a green card in order to placate his traditional parents still living in Taiwan, who are unaware of his lifestyle and are growing impatient with the lack of grandchildren. At the news, his parents fly to New York to help plan the wedding, and everyone must keep up the ruse.

A complicated and emotional comedy, The Wedding Banquet represents Ang Lee at his best. He expertly mines two cultures (gay and Taiwan) for humour that points out absurdities while maintaining respect for the beliefs and lifestyle. At the same time, he explores the consequences, both positive and negative, that occur when such contrary cultures overlap. There are some hilarious scenes in which the conflict is obvious, such as Wai-Tung and his partner Simon de-gaying their apartment prior to Wai-Tung’s parent’s arrival (I’ve heard traditional Taiwanese culture frowns on giant photos of sweaty, writhing men… at least when on full display). Lee also brilliantly demonstrates that American and Taiwanese culture are not so different as we would imagine; Simon and several homosexual friends intentionally disturbing the stiff, conservative, WASPy couple on their street, for instance. Clearly, bigotry is not a cultural phenomenon.

I come from one culture: I am Canadian. Sure, I have my mutt-esque heritage, but it’s far enough removed that I only have to navigate the one set of beliefs/principles (not to suggest that being Canadian means the same thing to everyone). Love is complicated enough when working with the one set of conventions. Marriage is complicated enough. Joining two families is complicated enough! Lee is remarkable at highlighting the extra confusions of blending not only two cultures, but three: the additional difficulties, the slight offenses, the funny (and not so funny) misunderstandings, and the heightened joy.

More than anything, The Wedding Banquet is about family. Lee explores the unusual and unconventional path this group of people follow as they evolve from interconnected individuals to a unit. The initial ruse begins to wear on Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei (his betrothed) as the significance of the marriage for his parents becomes clear – the lie is harder to live once they understand the impact of their deceit. But is it marriage that defines our love for one another? [SPOILER] Lee doesn’t seem to think so. Marriage does not guarantee happiness, nor does it make a family in itself. It is love that binds family together, love that transcends blood lines and cultural tradition. When Mr. Gao tells Simon, “you are my son too,” it is a powerful moment; we understand the cultural taboo of homosexuality does not compare to his paternal love for his son or his desire for his child’s happiness. There is no one right way to make a family, and The Wedding Banquet celebrates the uniqueness of family structure. Ultimately, Lee’s message is one of inclusion, hope and acceptance.

Favourite Scene: Wei-Wei’s limited English skills make for an entertaining set of marriage vows

Key Quote: Wai-Tung: “We’re not getting married for them!”      Mrs. Gao: “Well if not them, whom?!”

Fun Fact: The Wedding Banquet was the most financially profitable film of 1993, despite going up against heavy-weights like Jurassic Park (1993), due to its modest budget and international success.

Till the next,

K

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~ by K. Harker on March 14, 2011.

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