The Wedding Banquet
1993, R, 106 min. Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Winston Chao, May Chin, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Sihung Lung, Ah-Leh Gua.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 17, 1993
A darling of the past year's festival circuit, The Wedding Banquet wins fans with its sunny disposition as it turns a contemporary story about a marriage of convenience into a deft bedroom farce and humanist drama. Wai Tung (Chao), a naturalized American citizen from Taiwan, is a young real estate entrepreneur in New York City. He lives with his lover Simon (Lichtenstein) in a Manhattan brownstone enchanced with all the trappings of upwardly mobile and gay-identified lifestyles. Mom and Dad back in Taiwan know nothing of Wai Tung's homosexuality and vociferously long for news of their son's marriage and impending grandparenthood. Additionally, living illegally in the loft of a building owned by Wai Tung is Wei Wei (May Chin), a young artist from Mainland China who's in need of a green card. Both Simon and Wai Tung are fond of Wei Wei, so when Simon proposes an arranged marriage between Wai Tung and Wei Wei, they all think their problems have been solved. But the problems are only beginning, as they come to discover when Wai Tung's parents, Mr. and Mrs Gao (Sihung Lung and Ah-Leh Gua), insist that they are flying in from Taiwan for the wedding. The charade swells as they makeover the apartment, taking down muscle posters and hanging Chinese calligraphy in their place and passing Simon off as the friendly and ever-present landlord. Simon's gourmet cooking is surreptitiously substituted for Wei Wei's inept food preparation attempts. The sham continues through the wedding ceremony, through the long farcical banquet sequence attended by 300 guests who pull out all the stops, including following the couple into their honeymoon suite, and through the extended visit of Mr. and Mrs Gao, who are residing in the apartment with the disarranged threesome. In many ways, The Wedding Banquet is a conventional comedic set-up with familiar plot complications and charade. What distinguishes The Wedding Banquet is its generosity toward its characters, who are all given their due. Wai Tung is forced to reconcile his own internal culture clash, Wei Wei's self-serving survival instinct becomes tempered by a new concern for the welfare of others, Simon's accommodating tolerance is stretched unpleasantly toward its breaking point, and Mr. and Mrs. Gao turn out to be much more understanding than anyone knew. Considering its tiny budget and mix of professional and non-professional actors, The Wedding Banquet looks very polished and assured. A great compassion for its characters and some truly original narrative material (at least for American audiences) offset some of the generic conventionality inherent in the storyline. Score yourself an invitation to The Wedding Banquet; it's an affair to remember.