The Wedding Banquet (Xi Yan) by Ang Lee (1993, Taiwan/USA) is a film that explores many different themes that people don’t usually think of. One of the interesting themes in the film is the social and political utility of marriage. The Wedding Banquet is the first of the three films of Ang Lee’s queer cinema, and one that people will remember for its intersectionality.
The Wedding Banquet is a film about a gay Taiwanese-American, Wai-Tung, whose parents want him to get married and arranges matchmaking sessions for him. In order to get them off his back, Wai-Tung took on the suggestion of his gay lover, Simon, and asked Wei Wei, who wanted to get a green card (America citizenship) to go through a fake wedding to please his parents.
With only a budget of $750,000, The Wedding Banquet was a huge success, drawing in $4 million in profit, making it the highest-grossing Taiwanese-made film in history.
In this first installation, Ang Lee defines the concept of globalization in cinema better than any directors. He explored the idea of multiculturalism and constantly emphasise on bridging the gap and offering something for everyone. The diversity of audience and subject matter contrasted with his unity of theme and technique.
Ang Lee managed to incorporate many issues and themes into his film, which have never been combined before in one film. The examples are: Taiwanese-Americans VS Chinese Americans, Asian American families, old school parents VS younger generation, multi-racial couples, gay couples, gay Asian Americans, immigrants, pride, family values and love. The underlying theme of acceptance also played an important role in the film. Ang Lee created an opportunity to look at two very distinct and different cultures at the same time: Asian American and gay couples in the early 90s. To appeal to a wider audience and to reach a peaceful coexistence between the cultures, Ang Lee also chose to incorporate two languages into the film – English and Mandarin.
The Wedding Banquet captures the essence of Chinese culture and family dynamics. For example, in the dinner scene, Wai-Tung’s father sat at the end of the table and the others sat by his sides. This table arrangement is typical of the Chinese culture as the head of the family usually sit at the end as a sign of dominance. The film also expresses commonalities and conflicts between Eastern and Western traditions. By making the main character a Taiwanese-American, Ang Lee made the audience watch how he adapts to a different culture. In the film, Wai-Tung’s life gives the audience insightful details about contemporary Chinese American life and towards the end, we see how he finally found the answer: to live together with both his gay partner and his fake wife without ignoring or rebelling against the society in which he lives in.
The cultures and tradition from both Chinese and Western were seamlessly interwoven together. The audience have to watch with a critical eye and consciously look out for them in order not to miss it. However, one can say that Ang Lee gave more space to the Chinese culture with the wedding banquet. Most of the things they do at the wedding banquet were strictly following the Chinese tradition, for example: getting a young boy to jump on the newlyweds’ bed to wish for a boy for the couple’s first born.
Ang Lee consciously used the main characters as representations of the various cultures: Wai-Tung as Taiwan, Wei Wei as China, and Simon as US. Ang Lee also managed to reverse stereotypes by making Wai-Tung an integrated, successful Asian-American businessman, who speaks perfect English. Simon however, speaks broken Chinese to Wai-Tung’s parents, an ironic counterpart to immigrants’ broken English.
Tackling the theme of old fashioned parents and filial piety, Ang Lee saw to it that his characters are pushed to a corner, and emotionally attach itself to the audience. By giving Wai-Tung problems one after another and falling deeper and deeper into the mess he created, he was finally forced into telling his mother about his sexual orientation. However, he did not want to let his father know since he just got a mild stroke, but towards the end of the film, the father “confronted” Simon and revealed that he’d already known about them but didn’t talk to them about it because he still wants his grandchild.
Ang Lee’s style of storytelling makes the audience infer and his shots often having deeper meanings than it seem.
At the start of the film, Wai-Tung is seen working out in the gym while listening to his mother’s cassette. This scene had two implications. The first one would be introducing Wai-Tung as the more masculine side of the couple, with all the close-up shots of his muscles. The second one would be trying to lift the burden of his parents’ expectations.
In the dinner scene previously mentioned, Wei Wei is the only one wearing bright coloured clothes while others are dull coloured, implying that she doesn’t belong there or that everyone is focussed on her. The scene was well lit and the light coming in from the windows enhanced the tension at the dinner table, as if implying that the truth is coming to light any moment.
The wedding banquet being held at the best Chinese restaurant in New York is a turning point in the story. In the hall decorated with Western-type furniture, red lamps and dragons; Taiwanese, Asian Americans, Chinese, and white Americans sit together to enjoy the wonderfully presented food – a situation where no hierarchical order can be established.
About the author:
Lester is an aspiring writer who has a knack for writing stories with strong visuals, and is exploring the different writing platforms.
En.wikipedia.org. 2009. New Queer Cinema – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Queer_Cinema [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].
En.wikipedia.org. 2005. Intersectionality – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].
grabinsk1. 2013. “The Wedding Banquet” or “Ang Lee before Ang Lee was Ang Lee”. [online] Available at: http://queercinemagwss295.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/the-wedding-banquet-or-ang-lee-before-ang-lee-was-ang-lee/ [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].
Postcolonial.org. 1993. When East Meets West: A Sweet and Sour Encounter in Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. [online] Available at: http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct/article/viewArticle/360/806 [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].