Eat Drink Man Woman
NR (Mature Themes)
Sihung Lung, Kuei-Mei-Yang, Chien-Lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang, Winston Chao, Chao-Jung Chen
Ang Lee, James Schamus, and Hui-Ling Wang
Samuel Goldwyn Company
English subtitled Mandarin Chinese
"Everything is much different in Eat Drink Man Woman than the other films I've made. It has a bigger cast and a lot more complex story line... I started thinking about families and how they communicate. Sometimes the things children need to hear most are often the things that parents find hardest to say, and vice versa. When that happens, we resort to ritual. For the Chu family, the ritual is the Sunday dinner... At each dinner the family comes together and then something happens that pushes them farther apart."
- Ang Lee, writer/director of Eat Drink Man Woman
Who said foreign films can't be fun? Ang Lee's followup to his internationally successful The Wedding Banquet is a delicious examination of the relationship between aging Chinese master chef Tao Chu (Sihung Lung) and his three daughters. The oldest, Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei-Yang), is an unmarried school teacher in her late twenties. The middle daughter, Jia-Chen (Chien-Lien Wu), is a thriving corporate airline executive whose career comes before all else. The youngest, Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), is a twenty year old romantic who works at a Wendy's fast food joint.
Eat Drink Man Woman is a more accomplished motion picture than its predecessor - and The Wedding Banquet was good enough in its own right. The comedy is spontaneous and relaxed, the drama is finely-tuned, and the plot is seasoned with unexpected little twists. The script delights in occasional forays just beyond the typical bounds of a screenplay.
Though filmed entirely in Taiwan (Lee's first film not to examine cross-cultural issues), the themes of Eat Drink Man Woman are universal. The problems faced by the Chu family happen all around the world, and the difficulty of communicating across the generation gap is something almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. Love, especially that of Chu for his daughters, often goes unspoken, for to express emotion is to admit vulnerability.
With an ease that marks the true craftsman, Ang Lee develops a rapport between his characters and the audience. These people have a richness, texture, and depth that no stereotype could hope to match, and which a film like Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club was grasping for. The perfectly-proportioned measures of comedy and drama emerge through character interaction, not as a result of contrived situations and silly one-liners.
For his cast, Lee has chosen a mixture of actors he has and has not previously worked with. The role of Chu was written with veteran performer Sihung Lung in mind. The actor appeared in a similar patriarchal capacity in the director's Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet. Also returning from The Wedding Banquet are Winston Chao (the reluctant bridegroom then and a co-worker of Jia-Chen's now) and Ah-Leh Gua (the mother then and the obnoxious Mrs. Liang now).
Food is as much a backdrop as a recurring symbol. Chu's failing taste buds parallel his loss for the zest for life. Jia-Chen's love of cooking harkens back to a frustrated childhood desire, and Jia-Ning's work at a Wendy's makes a statement about the infusion of Western culture into modern-day China. Nevertheless, as with The Age of Innocence, which displayed countless dishes guaranteed to whet the appetite, Eat Drink Man Woman could perhaps be frustrating to any who view it on an empty stomach.
Eat Drink Man Woman is basted in its own wonderfully seasoned juices. Chu may have lost his taste, but writer/director Ang Lee has definitely not. A treat for those not scared off by subtitles, this movie provides one of the year's most sincere views of family dynamics. Dealing with subjects that could easily have emerged half-baked, Lee instead applies his talent and comes up with a dish cooked to perfection.