Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989) Poster

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Nicely shot.
Blueghost25 September 2003
I remember seeing portions of this film shot at the now defunct and torn down San Francisco Studios. It was an interesting project that was one of many independent films being funded and shot at the time. My one anecdotal memory is seeing much of the crew and the studio employees being ushered out of the infamous Stage 2 (a warehouse like structure with little to no baffling, that served more as a storage area than an actual sound-stage) for the "love making" scenes. Seeing this film over a decade later I can't really understand what all the hub-bub was about ... unless the actors were nude underneath the sheets or something. In any event the bedroom scenes were shot sans an audience.

Oh well.

It's a nice little film that, for some reason, is labeled by Blockbuster Video as a "comedy." Certainly there're a couple of humorous moments, but once again the marketing types pull a bait-and-switch on this customer by labeling a light drama a comedy. This is NOT a comedy. However it does raise a smile here and there, and occasionally a chuckle, and, in spite of the intentional mis-labeling, it is a very good film.

The script moves along well enough. There's a fine story here, but the film's title, for myself, is a missed opportunity. And, unlike in other films, the cultural and generational gaps aren't played up to the hilt. That's a definite plus for this movie. Quality over quantity is given a premium in this movie. Yet at the same time the "message" and title of the film is almost too subtle to grasp, and is only made openly manifest in the final scenes. Even then you have to be somewhat on your toes to catch it.

It's a likable film. The lighting is nicely done, and was the foremost technical aspect that I noticed in this film. The cinematography is intimate and very straightforward. The acting is very fine; no over the top performances, nor understated moments; all characters are given appropriate exposure, and state their messages with emotional clarity.

The film is somewhat slow, but not overly, as is Wayne Wang's style. Overall a well stated film regarding Chinese-American society (specifically a newly wed couple, circa post WW2). It's by no means a gut-busting comedy, though there are comic moments in it. If you're expecting lots of laughs, then don't see this film. If you're expecting some mildly humorous situations told in a dramatic vein, then this film will probably entertain :)

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very nice look at Chinese-Americans
MartinHafer16 August 2005
This is not a great movie, but is still quite good. The story involves Chinese men who suddenly have the chance to marry. Up until then, US immigration quotas separated families in an effort to limit an influx of the Chinese. They did so by allowing MEN into the country but not women! The movie moves at a nice leisurely pace and I had no serious complaints. It's just that there are better stories about the clash between traditional and modern Chinese culture (such as in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman). Still, considering how few movies about Chinese or Chinese-Americans exist, this pretty makes this movie a must-see for the curious viewer.
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Sadly, It Bored Almost All Viewers Including Me
ccthemovieman-129 August 2007
First of all, I certainly agree with review "blueghost" who notes this movie is NOT a comedy. That is very true. For me it was almost entire a melodrama with a few smiles here and there. It's a very non-offensive story, which is nice, and it's beautifully filmed as I find most Chinese movies tend to be. That's one of the reasons I give them a try. Many times, frankly, they are on the slow side but I marvel at the colors and sometimes I enjoy the leisurely pace. (I'm excluding all those martial-arts films.)

Very few people, including national critics who are reluctant to criticize foreign films, enjoyed this film.

The story is a tale from the late 1940s/early '50s when Chinese were first allowed to bring their wives to the United States after being barred from doing so for years and years.

The problem with the film is that after a somewhat-promising start, it bogs down too much with the day-to-day problems of married life. This is the kind of stuff that gives soap operas a bad name. The story never recovers and this is a hard film to stick with, unless you are fascinated with the conflicts involving Chinese-American men and old-school Chinese women.
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Not a comedy, but an enjoyable drama
teledyn31 March 2005
We selected this film on the merits of the many famous HK actors involved, so I didn't notice its labeling as a 'comedy' until we got it home. True, it has comedic moments, but so does the Bourne Identity.

The review here also lists the film as Mandarin with English subtitles; it is in Cantonese, with some characters speaking a regional dialect.

The story centers around that period in US history just after WWII where, for the first time, Chinese immigrants were allowed to apply for full citizenship and allowed to bring wives from China; the story follows a young ex-serviceman whose father sends him home to bring back one of the first of these wives. In a few days he's thrust from the club-hopping carefree vet to take his full traditional role as First-Son with all it's trappings and responsibilities, all this on top of he and his wife being one of the first of their kind, a true Chinese-American family.

Put yourself there, you'll agree, this is a lot to heap on a pair of 20-somethings, it wears them down, things fall apart.

It is, in a sense, the same old story, as they say, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, love always wins, love never loses, put your money on love sort of story, well shot, well put together. It's about an important time in our history while also an important time in all our lives, nothing to shower with awards, but a good story well told and well worth the rental.
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A Good Film From Director Wang
crossbow010613 November 2008
Ignore the picture that was used as the poster of this film, it is completely incongruous to the story. This is a film set in New York's Chinatown about a couple, one an Americanized Chinese young man (Ben Loy) who agrees to marry a young lady (Mei Oi) from a small village in China. She comes to New York and the story is the struggle of their compatibility. The movie is set in the late 1940's/early 1950's and it has a good rhythm to it. Most of it is in English, but that doesn't matter. At times you feel like a voyeur, looking in on this couple and wondering what will happen next to them. They do have their problems, and she even takes on a lover (Eric Tsang, who has a smallish but pivotal part), but the story is about the clash between Chinese traditions and their present day. While the film is good, it partly suffers from melodramatic overload. If you're interested in seeing a film about the immigrant experience, this is a good one about the Chinese one. I saw it on TCM in the wee hours of the morning. I watched it through, so that in and of itself is an endorsement.
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bittersweet comedy of sorts
widescreenguy10 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
the story of Chinese in north america is one of early struggle, setback and final triumph. and so it goes with this film.

spoilers !

a young chinese man caught between the old ways and the new is given the opportunity of starting a family as the draconian laws forbidding chinese immigrants from bring their wives to america are finally rescinded due to his contribution to the war effort. it is an arranged marriage to the lovely Mei Oi (played by the vivacious Cora Miao).

but things start to unravel when pressures from his job lead to a period of impotence and the young wife succumbs to an indiscretion. gossips have a field day and it looks like things are headed for tragedy.

but the human spirit prevails and all is forgiven and they live happily ever after, having lots of babies just like the chinese-american dream.

it is a simple straightforward film, like the life experience for a lot of immigrants of all races and ethnic background.

one aspect of the film which was unrealistic is the fact everyone speaks english except in China, and even there they do speak some. my wife is Chinese and when I am out with her family and friends they all speak Chinese even though everyone is very fluent in english. but for the sake of a fine film I will make that one concession.

the acting was a bit stilted at some points but that is to be expected with a lot of authentic extras. the film provides a glimpse into another aspect of the Chinese experience in north america; that experience is very similar in Canada as well as USA.

get to know some Chinese friends, they are very hard working and family oriented (pun intended). and that is meant in the most respectful way. also, read up on Chinese history, that nation has many lessons to teach the rest of the world, and we can hope and pray the Chinese people eventually finally and totally heave the despotism that was and is part of their experience.
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I really enjoyed this film!
vincentlynch-moonoi7 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Yes, I really enjoyed this film, and I think for two reasons. First, I have always enjoyed film performances by Russell Wong. I've seen him do drama, comedy, play an SOB, and do martial arts. He's a very talented man. The second reason I enjoyed this film was that you were never quite sure where it was going. All too many movies you can figure out in the first 15 minutes. Not this film.

The film begins by teaching the viewer something about the challenges of being one of the early Chinese immigrants to America. Then we get into the story -- a young Chinese man, freshly away from fighting for American in WWII, who goes to China (at the direction of his father) to find a suitable wife. This part of the film might be called "innocence", because at this point the young man is but a babe in the woods. The scenes in China are charming and sentimental. Ah, so that's what kind of film this is going to be.

Wait. Oops. No. When the young marrieds return to NYC, the young husband can't function in bed, even though the couple is very much in love. Ah, so that's what the film is really going to be about.

Well, not really. Because, in the end, it's about what happens to each member of the family -- husband, wife, and the two grandpas, when the wife has an affair and becomes pregnant.

Why this is called a comedy, I don't know. Yes, there is humor, but this is about the disintegration of innocence and the disintegration of a marriage...although, there is an appropriately happy ending.

Russell Wong is excellent, as always. Cora Miao does very well playing the young wife. Victor Wong never ceases to surprise, and as the grandfather on the young man's side, he does very nicely. The other actors here are incidental to the main plot, but they all do their jobs.

Highly recommended.
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A delightful movie
alangalpert9 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Eat a Bowl of Tea" is a charming and often amusing story about the challenges of both marriage and living in an immigrant culture. Ben Loy, the son of a Chinese immigrant to New York, was recently discharged (honorably) from the army. Pressured by his father, he returns to China to find a bride, which he does. Back in New York, the couple rents an apartment, and he becomes the manager of a restaurant. The hours are long, and the job is stressful. When he gets home, he is too tired to "work" on the grandchild his father desperately wants. His wife feels neglected and grows lonely. You can probably guess the rest. Their troubles are exacerbated by gossip - the unfortunate downside of life in a closely-knit community.

There are no Caucasians in the cast, which lends authenticity to the film. The actors are all good, and the script is smart and believable. The soundtrack is very listen-able, with a mixture of jazz from the period (early 1950s) and Chinese-inspired music.
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Enjoyable - But Fails to Realise its Potential
JoeytheBrit1 April 2010
Focusing on a little-known aspect of Chinese-American history – that Chinese men who had travelled to the States to make their fortune were prevented by federal law from marrying a native girl and from bringing their sweethearts over from China – director Wayne Wang crafts a pleasant story without really exploring the theme's full potential.

Asian heartthrob Russell Wong plays Ben Loy, a Chinese-American former serviceman in post-WW2 New York, who is allowed to marry a girl from the homeland following a relaxation of the laws due to the assistance given to America by China during the conflict. Fixed up by his wily old father (Victor Wong) with the daughter of a friend, Ben travels back to China and instantly (and fortuitously) falls in love with Mei Oi (Cora Miao, Wayne Wang's wife). Bringing her back to America, however, triggers a series of events that threatens both their marriage, and their entire family's standing in the Chinese-American community.

This is one of those films that, in the first act, looks as if it is going to turn out to be something special. But, sadly, things begin to unravel shortly after the young couple return to the States, and what could have been an insightful exploration into a culture and way of life that is alien to most of us becomes little more than a light rom-com. Ben, under pressure from both a new job that is more challenging than he expected and from a tight-knit community keen to welcome the arrival of the first child born to native parents, finds himself unable to perform in the bedroom. Mei Oi's eventual response to this is as unbelievable as it is cruel, and shoehorns a melodramatic plot that really has no place in a film that seemed to be setting itself up as a gently observed character piece. To add insult to injury, the manner in which it is resolved is equally unrealistic; so many questions are left unanswered, and the conclusion is so badly rushed that it devalues much of the good work that has gone before.

There is no doubt that Wang is an extremely talented director; he composes some wonderfully evocative frames and has a keen eye when it comes to the use of colour and shadow, but his control of narrative structure – in this film at least – is poor, leaving a talented cast to flounder in the second act, and seemingly lose interest midway through the third. Of course, Wang can only do what he can with the story handed to him, and writer Judith Rascoe must shoulder her share of the blame: by asking us to care for a couple about whom we are told so little – both as a couple and as individuals – and who seem to have little direction outside of complying with the wishes of their parent's, she leaves herself open to charges of naivety at best and, at worst, literary laziness.
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No room for love in War.
mifunesamurai12 February 2003
American Chinese males (the wives were left behind because that's the way the yanks wanted it), have it tough before, during and just after the silly second world war. This story picks up just after that war when our hero is sent to China to marry a local girl and bring her back to America where it all goes wrong. Charming and well photographed.
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Cups of romance.
haildevilman13 November 2007
A rarity in that we have an American made Chinese film that isn't based on Triad violence.

A breath of fresh air it is.

Young man and woman romance each other in America. Said couple is Chinese. They wish to stick to the traditions but adapt to their new homeland.

A romantic film that you can bring the wife or girlfriend to. And anyone into China or Asia will like it too. The culture gets a good going over here. In a positive way mind you.

And there is a lot of truth to it all too. Yes, elder Chinese men came to the U.S. alone and sometimes never saw their wives for 20-30 years. These marriages lasted. Impressive.

Romance with steamed dumplings here. Nicely done Wayne.
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New Yoik
sirjuno1 November 2001
in the times that every time you see new york now; woody Allen, Pollokaville, there are always scenes of the trade towers that are no longer with us, but although this film is situated in New Yoik, there are no scenes of the outside world. Why is this. and why do the Chinese suffer such great difficulties in New York. A film by wayne wang based on a book which was thought to be forgotten until the chinese literature came into a period of renaissance in the 1970s, Wayne wang named after the actor John Wayne, ironically this wasn't even his real name, it was something like marilyn, so either or, Wayne Wang was always going to be called after an American icon, much to his parents desire. The film juxtaposes culture; chinese onto the new setting; New York. it does this with a relationship at the centre and the chinese culture surrounding this relationship. For the chinese in this film; mostly men, as they have moved to New york to send back money to china, a woman is seen as a much needed asset, an asset that enables the continuing of their culture and their family in their new found land. the woman, has this pressure put upon her and so does the man, ben loi, the man impotent, and the woman cuckolds him to make the rest of the family happy, This film is a great insight into the Chinese and the idea of an alien in a foreign country, both with ben loi going back to china to marry and his wife to be coming over to America, Was it sting wha sang WOOOaaah I'm an alien, I'm a little alien, i'm an englishman in New York.

I recommend also Do the Right thing by Spike Lee
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