Project Valentine, Day 14: The Wedding Banquet


I had no idea when I added this movie to my list, but it was directed by Ang Lee, who also directed the movie I watched last night, Brokeback Mountain.  To tell the truth, the movie that I always associate with Lee is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it turns out that most of his filmography is made up of relationship dramas.  And Hulk, which I guess is not without its lessons for people in a relationship ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...").

I'm going to give a longer than usual plot summary, both because this movie isn't very well known and because some of the points I want to talk about depend upon it.  The Wedding Banquet starts as a comedy, but takes a turn for the dramatic about halfway through.  Wai-Tung is a Chinese-American landlord who lives in New York City with his boyfriend Simon.  His parents live in Taiwan, and are very traditional; he has never come out to them.  His mother worries that he is in his late 20s without being married, and tries to set him up with various matchmaking services (which also sets up one of the movie's funniest scenes).  His father, a retired general, is in failing health and wants a grandchild before he dies.  When Wei-Wei, one of Wai-Tung's tenants, loses her job (making her unable to pay rent and also invalidating her work visa), she faces both eviction and deportation back to China.  Simon recommends a solution to both Wai-Tung's and Wei-Wei's problems - a green card marriage.  When word reaches Wei-Tung's parents, they insist on visiting for the wedding, and are heartbroken by the hasty courthouse ceremony.

Here's where the movie starts to play as a drama.  While the family is out "celebrating" the wedding at a restaurant, the restaurateur recognizes Wei-Tung's father, the retired general.  He was the general's driver for twenty years, and insists upon being given the honor of giving the newlyweds the most lavish wedding banquet ever seen.


The bride and groom drink heavily during the banquet and drunkenly have sex that night.  Because this is a movie, she gets pregnant from their single encounter.  This, combined with Wei-Tung's parents' extended stay, takes a heavy toll on all of the relationships, Simon and Wei-Tung, Wei-Tung and Wei-Wei, the parents and the newlyweds...  This is what the rest of the movie explores and ultimately resolves.

I really think that most people would enjoy this movie.  Ask yourself this - have I ever laughed at a romantic comedy that revolved around misunderstandings and attempts to cover things up?  If the answer is yes, you will enjoy the first half of this movie.  Have you ever identified with a family drama?  Then you will enjoy the second half of this movie.

Did you ever see the documentary The Celluloid Closet?  It's an interesting look at the history of gay portrayals in cinema.  In early Hollywood up through the 1950s, the most you could do was imply or make coded references.  In fact, the exercise scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes gets a lot of mention for its pretty outright homoerotic nature.  Then there was a phase through the 1970s and 80s where you could be more forward with gay portrayals, but gays were almost always played either as broad stereotypes or perverse villains.  Then you hit the 90s and had a decade of AIDS dramas.  And this is what interested me most about The Wedding Banquet - it was made in 1993, and is unusual for a movie of that time.  Simon and Wei-Tung aren't shrieking queens or AIDS victims, they're believable portrayals of two people struggling with real problems.

The parents, traditional as they may be, are not played for stereotypes, either.  They don't entirely understand their son, but they really do want him to be happy, and the way they know how to judge happiness is in terms of the values they've always lived with.  In fact, my favorite scene in the entire movie is one between Simon and the father near the very end.  It's so good, and I want to tell it to you so much, but I'm not going to because on the chance that you ever see this movie I want to leave at least that one bit unspoiled for you.  I will only say that it is a really great scene of unconditional parental love.

If you like more relationship-centered romances, take a chance on this movie.  It's virtually unheard of, so as soon as Netflix gets it back in the mail from me, you stand a good chance of getting it with next to no wait!

RATING - This movie gets four red envelopes out of five.  The reason I don't give it a perfect five is because one late scene pulls out a romantic comedy trope that is so cliched that it even figured into a major plot point on the series Sex & the City.  Aside from that, though, this movie was a pleasant surprise.
LESSON -Family traditions can seem to be an encumbrance sometimes, but they can also become part of a rich heritage that strengthens your relationship.


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