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‘Eat Drink Man Woman’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 19, 1994

 


Director:
Ang Lee
Cast:
Sihung Lung;
Kuei-Mei Yang;
Chien-Lien Wu;
Yu-Wen Wang
NR
Not rated


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The opening sequence in “ Eat Drink Man Woman,” in which a delectable Taiwanese banquet is prepared by a master chef, is guaranteed to make you contemplate the non-buttered popcorn in your lap and cry. Not quite as delicious -- but nonetheless enjoyable—is the repast that follows: Ang (“The Wedding Banquet”) Lee’s amiable family farce about generational tension and, of course, food.

The chef is Tao Chu (Sihung Lung), a widower with legendary culinary skills, who lives in a state of constant hostility with his three grown-up daughters. He prepares magnificent meals for the family’s regular Sunday dinner, only to see his daughters show little appetite for his labors. Tao, who invests all his energy into this now-empty ritual, has no idea how to communicate with his children. “I don’t understand any of them and I don’t want to,” he laments.

Tao’s exasperation is not restricted to family. He’s also losing faith in life itself. His art is no longer accorded the respect it used to enjoy in Taiwan. Traditional recipes, as far as he’s concerned, are being mixed up into one, banal flavor. He’s literally losing his taste for the food he makes.

Luckily for Tao, the script—written by Lee, James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang—solves all his problems for him. Coincidental romantic changes in all three women’s lives take effective care of the housebound woes: Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang), the pious, mousy daughter still mourning the man who jilted her nine years ago, becomes interested in volleyball coach Ming-Dao (Chin-Cheng Lu). Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien Wu), a headstrong deputy director in an airline company, finds herself interested in new associate Li Kai (Winston Chao). And youngest daughter Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang) starts a relationship with mopey Guo-Lun (Chao-Jung Chen), her best friend’s boyfriend.

“Eat Drink” follows an episodic, farcical course, as the women become involved with their respective men outside the home, then make bold announcements at Tao’s dinner table. Although Tao reacts with shock to these pieces of news—and although his ennui would seem to render him too dispirited and misanthropic for such action—he pursues a secret, impulsive course of his own. It proves to be the Chu family’s ultimate shocker.

The latter development is one of several inorganic narrative jumps in the movie. But the movie’s main appeal—beyond stomach yearnings caused by its cuisine—comes from the actors, who infuse their archetypal roles with comedic appeal. Ah-Leh Gua, as the vampish busybody who tries to seduce Tao amid billows of cigarette smoke, steals all her scenes. Chao-Jung Chen is very amusing as a Dostoevski-reading lover tormented by a girlfriend who keeps standing him up. “I want to end this addiction to love,” he tells his friend Jia-Ning with understated world weariness, “but I’m too weak.”

Perhaps most memorable is Kuei-Mei Yang, as religious Jia-Jen, who brazenly tells her family that, not only is she seeing a new man after nine years of abstinence, she married him this morning. When her sister expresses surprise that she married someone who is not Christian, the newlywed replies with delicate ominousness: “He will be.”

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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