3/16/07

The Wedding Banquet (1993)

Winston Chow (Wai-Tung), May Chin (Wei-Wei), Mitchell Lichtenstein (Simon), Shihung Lung (Mr. Gao)

Directed by Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility)

IMDB: "To satisfy his nagging parents, a gay landlord and a female tenant agree to a marriage of convenience, but his parents arrive to visit and things get out of hand."

My brother and his wife bought this for me back in May, for my birthday, and to cleanse my mental palate after the previously reviewed and unmentionable POS, I put this on. A classic, for certain, and worth discussing.

Back before Ang Lee directed a film about gay cowboys, he directed a film about regular gay guys. I first saw this in college as part of a film studies class. The snickers and giggles I heard when watching Brokeback Mountain last year were no less than when I watched Banquet among 20-somethings in a lecture hall more than a decade ago. A depressing lack of progress.

But unlike Brokeback, a movie about (not) coming to terms with the self, Banquet is about trust and love -- primarily the ability to trust in the love offered by the people closest to us. Unconditional love is just that. Unconditional. And because of that, Wai-Tung's father is one of the coolest characters in modern comedy.

The family itself is a mash of expectations, hopes, best-intentioned lies, and old traditions. In short, it felt real. The laughs are not forced, the love is not artificial, and the ending is not necessarily twee. It's sweet and fanciful, perhaps, but also a portrait of how a family must come to terms with the realities of the people contained under the umbrella of that term.

When Emma Thompson sought a director for her adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, she approached Ang Lee because of how greatly this film impressed her. As a Taiwanese director who had never read Jane Austen, he didn't see his potential to bring anything valid to her screenplay. Luckily, she convinced him otherwise. The resulting movies have a great deal in common, especially the subtle humor, tense moments of silence, drama that is not overplayed or over-explained, and Lee's ability to let the camera roll so actors can do their jobs.

Ultimately, my disappointment with Brokeback Mountain had nothing to do with the film iteself. I was disappointed because Lee received such flak and attention and notoriety because of his gay cowboys, when an infinitely more entertaining film about a loving, well-adjusted, accepting homosexual couple already existed in his repertoire.

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