Monday, December 03, 2007

The Wedding Banquet (1993)- R

Marx claims that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. In the case of director Ang Lee, the reverse is true. A dozen years before Lee brought to the screen Annie Proulx’s heart-wrenching short story of ill-fated love (Brokeback Mountain), he directed The Wedding Banquet. In this comedy, Lee foreshadowed Brokeback Mountain's theme of the relationships of bi-sexual couples to the larger and often hostile society.

The Wedding Banquet is a romantic comedy about a semi-closeted gay Chinese immigrant stockbroker (Wei Tong, played by Winston Chao) and the lengths he goes to in order to conceal his sexual identity from his parents, who have paid him an unexpected visit from Taiwan. How far will Wei Tong go? Far enough to marry Wei Wei, played by May Chin. Wei Wei, a tenant in Wei Tong building, agrees to the marriage in exchange for her delinquent rent. And Wei Tong’s dilemma only gets more pressing when his parents insist on a elaborate traditional Chinese wedding banquet. Simon, Wei Tong boyfriend played by Mitchell Lichtenstein, is in every sense of the word, the best man, and he dutifully helps the odd couple navigate the rituals of the wedding banquet.

The wedding banquet is a very funny film that is filled with painful moments. It’s a story about sexual roles and their cultural context. And none of the five major characters is initially prepared to confront the contradictions and confusions that result from the cultural conflicts between Chinese and American, gay, straight and bi-sexual, and monogamy and polygamy. For them and for us, Lee suggests, the journey ends with new understandings of cultural and sex. For the viewer, hard lessons should always be so pleasurably learned. This is a fun film with many unexpected turns.