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‘The Wedding Banquet’ (NR) and ‘Okoge’ (NR)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 27, 1993

Come out, come out, wherever you are: Two frisky imported comedies explore the still-taboo topic of gay life in China and Japan.

"The Wedding Banquet" is a stylish, cross-cultural "Green Card," directed by Chinese director Ang Lee. American Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) and naturalized Chinese-born real estate entrepreneur Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) are your typical mainstream Manhattan gay yuppie couple -- when we first see Wai-Tung, he's pumping iron at the gym. But Wai-Tung's American life is plagued with guilt because of the flood of "when are you going to get married?" letters from his parents in Taiwan, who go so far as to send their beloved son Chinese computer dating forms.

As a joke, Wai-Tung and Simon return a form filled out with preposterous requirements -- a 6-foot opera singer who speaks five languages -- and Wai-Tung's parents fly out the impossible dream date to meet him in America.

One of Wai-Tung's tenants is lovely Chinese starving-artist Wei Wei (Taiwanese pop star May Chin), who has lost her job because Immigration is on her tail. At Simon's urging, Wai-Tung agrees to marry Wei-Wei, simultaneously solving her green card problem and placating his parents. "Not to mention the tax breaks for married couples," Simon reminds the business-minded Wai-Tung. Sounds simple, but then Wai-Tung's parents insist on flying over for the blessed occasion, Wei-Wei secretly loves the man she is marrying for convenience, and the little white lie snowballs.

Ang's elegantly orchestrated farce is generous with hilarious moments -- preparing Wei-Wei for her green card exam, Simon drills her in every intimate detail of her reluctant "husband's" behavior; Wai-Tung and Simon frantically "de-gaying" their brownstone before the parents arrive -- but the "Wedding Banquet" is true to the delicate and complex emotions of all its characters, especially sensitive to the poignancy of parents' disappointment and bewilderment and the conflict between personal freedom and the weight of tradition. The extended sequence at a grand Chinese wedding banquet and its attendant traditions is enchanting.

The title of the wry, dry Japanese comedy "Okoge," is slang for a girl who enjoys the company of gay men -- what is impolitely termed "fag hag" in U.S. gay parlance. After watching Goh and his married lover Tochi kiss one afternoon at a gay beach (the gay sex scenes are unprecedentedly frank and sensual), naive single Sayoko develops a fascination for this couple, and offers them her tiny bedroom as secret harbor for their trysts.

Directed by Takehiro Nakajima, "Okoge" has the subversive, unsentimentally farcical feel of a Pedro Almodovar film -- at one point a posse of fierce drag queens defends Goh against an attacker, and the convoluted plot evolves into sort of a Japanese "Two Gays and a Baby." This intriguing but somewhat overlong (at two hours) comedy is mostly concerned with the melancholy and frustrating aspects of gay life in Japan, where taboos remain deeply entrenched and there is next to no privacy in puritanical society.

Copyright The Washington Post

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