Movie Review: The Wedding Banquet (1993)

Posted: January 19, 2013 in Comedy
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the wedding banquet

Wei-Tung (Winston Chao) is a closeted gay man living in Manhattan with his boyfriend Simon. (Michael Lichtenstein)Wei Tung works as a landlord and spending a lot of time fixing up the apartment of a nagging artist tenant named Wei Wei. (May Chin)  Wei Tung’s mother Mrs. Gao (Ah Leh Gua) pesters Wei Tung to get married, so Wei Tung fill out an application with a Chinese dating service that no dating service could ever find,  a 5’8” opera singer, with 2 Masters degrees who knows five languages.  Amazingly the dating service finds a close match, Mao Mei (Vanessa Yang) and Wei Tung’s mother even flies her to New York,  but the girl is dating a Caucasian guy in secret and has no more interest in Wei Tung, than he has in her.  After Wei Wei loses her job as a waitress, she fears that she’s going to have to return to China, because she has no green card.  Simon suggests that Wei Tung and Wei Wei have a fake marriage, that way, Wei Tung can stop his mother’s nagging and Wei Wei can stay in the US.  Wei Tung’s parents are so excited to hear that their son is getting married that they rush over from Taiwan, to have a big wedding banquet.  Wei Tung’s father, Mr. Gao (Sihung Lung) has had a stroke recently, but wouldn’t miss his son’s wedding for the world.

Wei-Tung disappoints his parents by having a civil ceremony with Wei Wei, but shortly after the civil ceremony, a friend of Mr. Gao, Old Chen,  (Tien Pien) offers his restaurant as a banquet hall for We-Tung’s wedding banquet.  Mr. and Mrs. Gao call 200 friends and they have a lavish wedding banquet for Wei Tung.  Things get out of hand after the banquet, and a drunk Wei Wei seduces a drunk Wei Tung, and they sleep together.  Soon, Wei Wei is pregnant, how does Simon take the news?  Does Wei Tung ever tell his parents the truth about his sexuality?

This is a wonderful movie.  It’s more about a culture clash than anything else.  Will culturally strict Asian parents accept an openly gay son?  This movie starts as a comedy, and slowly, gently becomes a serious movie to handle the more serious issues presented, Wei Tung’s sexual preference, and the pregnancy.  Credit goes to Ang Lee, who co-wrote this movie for treating the issues presented in a straightforward and honest manner.  Lee clearly understands the Asian parental archetypes, Mr. Gao is a strong, stoic, but sanguine father, he loves his son very much, but his culture doesn’t allow him to show that love openly.  Mrs. Gao loves her son too, and only wants a woman who loves him and will take care of him.  There’s a scene where Mrs. Gao is talking to Wei Wei about how difficult it was to give birth to Wei Tung, and how she couldn’t have more children after him.  That scene completely humanized her to me.  And that’s the great thing about these characters, they are not one dimensional.

Winston Chao does a great job as a man straddling two worlds, the traditional world of his parents’ culture, and the modern mores of America.  May Chin does a wonderful job building a character out of what could have been a silly, superfluous character, she wants someone to love her, she hopes it’s Wei Tung, but knows that could lead to heartbreak.  She also aches for her own parents in China, and so adopts Wei Tung’s parents and showers them with affection,  and likewise they shower her with affection.  The love between parents and daughter-in-law is real, even if the wedding is faked. That’s what makes this movie a good movie, it’s about love of all kinds between many different characters, and because the characters are so real, the way the issues are resolved feels true to life.

The Wedding Banquet: A feast for the heart and the funnybone.

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