When I think of Ang Lee, I certainly don’t think of comedies. So when I started The Wedding Banquet and found myself squarely in that realm, with a little screwball thrown in, it threw me quite a bit. By the end of it, though, I was smiling, having been shown once again that Ang Lee can handle damn near any topic that is given to him, in any genre he wants to display it in. His two Oscars for directing are no joke, and even in his earlier films such as this one, which was only his second, he shows a craftsmanship and the tender touch of an artisan.
Wai-Tung is a Taiwanese man living in Manhattan, working on renovating a building, from which he expects to make a large sum. Unbeknownst to his parents, who send his regular cassette tapes with messages and well wishes, he is gay, living with his American partner Simon for going on five years. Finally fed up with his parents’ constant matchmaking from afar, Wai is swayed by Simon to enter into a false marriage with one of the tenants of his building project, Wei-Wei; he finally gets his parents off his back, and Wei-Wei gets a green card to stay in the country. Only problem is, once they hear about the marriage, his parents immediately fly over to the States so they can supervise the entire proceedings. Surely such a premise is bound to be chock-full of shenanigans and misunderstandings, right? Well, for the first half of the film, yes, you’d be right; everything from the script to the music conveys a light-hearted tone of comedic reverie, and you can’t help but laugh at some of the things that end up happening once Wai’s parents arrive. It was a ways into the second half of the film, however, that it hit me that the film had somehow completely changed genres, becoming a drama picture somewhere in the middle of light drama and the pitch-black serious kind. Where I was chuckling before, I was now tearing up at some of the proceedings. I don’t know how the film made this shift, or when, but the fact that it was made, and that it was nigh imperceptible, shows just how good a director Ang Lee is. Everything else was top-notch, from the acting (in particular Mitchell Lichtenstein, who has to carry the weight of being the only major non-Asian member of the cast) to the script to the production value. of course, this should be expected from Lee, but to have it so fully realized in such an early work of his is even more extraordinary.
One tip: the film switches between Chinese and English quite often, so make sure you’ve got a copy where the subtitles are up to snuff. other than that, there’s damn near no reason why you shouldn’t like this one. The shift in genres might be a little weird to some, but most that would take part in a film like this would find it to be not only welcome, but an excellent display of craftsmanship on the part of Lee. Really well done work, all around. I don’t know if I would say that it touches the realms of greatness, or even that it’s my favorite Ang Lee film, but for both, it’s up there, and it was definitely worth the investment.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10