Film Review: The Wedding Banquet
With Brokeback Mountain's many spotlights cast upon director Ang Lee, it's easy to forget that he had humble beginnings with a sweet little film called The Wedding Banquet. This 1993 Ang Lee classic is a modern-day, multi-cultural romantic comedy of errors in which Wai-Tung Gao, a successful New York property developer, has yet to break the news to his meddlesome parents that he's gay, as they parade a steady stream of potential brides through his life via long-distance fix-ups. Things become even more complicated when they announce to Wai-Tung that they are coming from Taiwan for a surprise visit.
In a bolt of inspiration, Wai-Tung and his gay partner Simon suddenly see this as the perfect opportunity to lessen the marriage pressure by having Wei-Wei, one of Wai-Tung's female tenants, a struggling artist from Shanghai, to pose as his fiancee, while Simon pretends to be his landlord. But things get complicated when Mr. and Mrs. Gao suggest that Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei speed up their wedding plans, as the father, a retired military general, is in failing health and they worry that this may be his last chance to travel. In a series of events reminiscent of La Cage aux Folles, Wai-Tung, Wei-Wei and Simon carry out their ruse all the way to honeymoon suite, where the plot takes an unexpected turn.
The title of the film is drawn from the celebratory wedding banquet hosted by Old Chen, a friend of Mr. Gao from his military career who now owns an upscale Chinese restaurant in New York. The event features a lavish Chinese menu with all the trimmings, and the gathering provides many opportunities for both dramatic and comedic irony between the bride and groom as they carry on their charade before a crowd of unsuspecting friends and family. Meanwhile, Simon is being an awfully good sport about it all.
The Wedding Banquet is an excellent study in sexual orientation and freedom of choice within the context of social mores, traditional values and parental expectations. It is presented with subtlety and nuance, pathos and humor, and is a truly worthy film in Ang Lee's growing repertoire.
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The Wedding Banquet is available on DVD at Amazon.com
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