Xi yan (1993)

reviewed by
Umar Khan

                           THE WEDDING BANQUET
                       A film review by Umar Khan
                        Copyright 1993 Umar Khan

I just saw the movie THE WEDDING BANQUET thanks to a local NPR station which was giving away tickets to a special showing. This is advertised as the first Taiwanese film shot in the US (Manhattan to be precise). It is about 60% in Chinese (with large subtitles) and 40% in English (no sub-titles, strangely enough). It was one of those films which is done so well that I forgot I was having to read subtitles; they became almost subliminal. And the audience, which was about 30% Chinese, 50% gay (for reasons which will become obvious later in this article), and the rest everything else, couldn't stop laughing. There was barely a five-minute period of time to be found when the audience, as a whole, didn't break up laughing at least once.

The story resembles the GREEN CARD film by Gerard Depardieu a bit and has been compared to LA CAGE AUX FOLLES by some reviewers, though I don't personally see any resemblance to LA CAGE other than a very superficial one which comes from both having gay characters and gay situations in their plots.

The story is of a young, prosperous Taiwanese gentlemen (Wei Tung, played by Winston Chao) who lives in New York and is something of a slum lord (though a personable one). He is also gay. The movie opens with Wei Tung working out with free weights while listening to a tapes letter from his mother (played by Ah-Lea Gua). This sets the theme for the movie. Wei Tung's mother is pressuring him to get married so she can be a grandmother. His parents have been enrolling him in expensive computer match making services, too. To get his parents (who are en route for a visit to America with the single ambition of getting him married off to anyone) off his back, Wei Tung is convinced by his lover, Simon (played by Mitchell Lichtenstein) to marry his artist tenant, Wei Wei (played by May Chin) who needs a green card. So the plot thickens. What ensues is a comedy of errors leading up to a marriage before a justice of the peace in a municipal wedding factory and a wedding banquet forced on them by an old family retainer whose son just happens to own the fanciest restaurant/hotel in Chinatown. The banquet is a blast. Everyone, especially the groom, gets zonked. Then when the bride and groom finally reach their room to collapse after the festivities, their room is invaded by a throng of returning wedding guests armed with mah-jong tables, Chinese lanterns, and the like. The guests set up shop in the couple's hotel room and refuse to leave until Wei Wei and Wei Tung get under the covers together and pass out *all* of their clothes.

As a result, Wei Wei discovers that Wei Tung can be aroused by a woman after all. She gets pregnant and mom and dad (who *still* haven't left for China) are ecstatic. But the pressures on the trio (Wei Wei, Wei Tung, and Simon) have obviously multiplied. Fights ensue. Feelings are hurt. Lifestyles are cramped.

I won't tell any more of the plot, because you *must* see this film. The "solutions" are not original but they are well done and always inspire audience laughs. There are touching "coming out" scenes, reconciliations, bon voyages, and the like.

There is enough seriousness (such as when Wei Tung's father, a retired general who fought with Chiang Kai Chek, played by Shihung Lung, has a stroke on the day of the big breakfast fight between a frustrated Simon and father-to-be Wei Tung). Some seriousness is necessary because the whole theme of "coming out" to the family and deciding where one draws the line between duty to parents and honesty to one's self are all necessarily part of the "gay experience."

I highly recommend everyone who likes good fun, isn't totally turned off by gay themes tastefully handled, and who can forget that s/he is reading subtitles to make immediate reservations when this film comes to town!


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