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USA 1993
Directed by
Ang Lee
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Wedding Banquet

For Westerners Ang Lee’s breakout film reveals things of interest about traditional Chinese culture but with respect to its core theme of gay liberation it is terribly politically-correct, dating it on the one-hand and making it quite twee on the other.

Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) is Manhattan yuppie who lives with his cute Caucasian boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein). His Taiwanese parents are desperate for him to settle down and produce offspring so Simon comes up with the bright idea that Wai-Tung should marry Wei Wei (May Chin), a tenant in a building owned by Wai-Tung. She would get a green card and his parents would be off his case. But when the latter arrive from Taiwan to plan a traditional Chinese wedding the trio have to enact a charade that wears increasingly thin.

Whilst the cross-cultural and cross-generational themes Lee explores are engaging his execution is less so.  Chao and Lichtenstein are rather awkward performers and there is a heavy-handedness to the representation of their gayness which is very much steeped in a 1980s “minority” perspective, complete with disapproving WASP neighbours and periodic outbreak of petulance. Not to mention that the whole wedding banquet thing comes together with amazing rapidity. Where did all those guests come from one wonders?  And the film’s happy ending is, so to speak, more than a little hard to swallow.

The film is much stronger when it stops being about being gay and focuses on the East-West conflict of values. May Chin, a Taiwan pop star is captivating as Wei-Wei whilst Sihung Lung and Ah-Leh Gua are a lot of fun as Wai-Tung's parents as like Wai-Tung they all struggle to cope with the challenge to traditional values from more pragmatically liberal Western ways.

The film is well-made on a relatively small budget of $750,000 although there is nothing here to indicate that Lee would go on to establish a A-list career.




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