Monday, March 10, 2008

Expectations at the Wedding Banquet

As I sat at home this past winter break flipping through onDemand movie options, I was pleasantly surprised to find “Wedding Banquet,” a film featuring Asian themes and Asian faces. I selected the movie, intent on understanding the Mandarin portions without using subtitles, and got off the couch two hours later having enjoyed the storyline and integration of modern American and traditional Taiwanese culture.

The second time around, I persuaded a friend to join me in viewing “Wedding Banquet” and ensured him that it wouldn’t be a sad movie. I answered honestly—my recollection was that Wai-Tung, Wei Wei and Simon’s narrative was a more humorous one, with funny very-“Chinese” scenarios interspersed throughout. But this time, watching the younger generation of characters selfishly fool Wai-Tung’s parents (basically, the entirety of the movie) was actually very painful. I felt bad for Wai-Tung, too, subject to strict traditional expectations of filial piety, and unable to find acceptance from his very own parents. I felt sorry for Wei Wei, who desired an ideal American family life complete with handsome Chinese husband and child, and for Simon, who was cut off by language barriers, a cultural outsider.

The whole faux-wedding fiasco was incited by Wai-Tung’s desire to fulfill his parent’s wishes while secretly maintaining his own “Americanized” lifestyle, as well as Wei Wei’s need for a greencard. Wai-Tung’s conflict reminded me of a piece in Screaming Monkeys—“She Casts off Expectations” by Phoebe Eng. Eng tells a story of her Taiwanese mother’s best friend, who died after her children chose lifestyles that defied Chinese expectations, commenting: “That is how deep expectations run. Don't live up to them and you run the risk of your parents going mad and dying of disappointment and shame.” (Eng 170) It’s hard not to see how very important a grandson and heterosexual wedding are to Wai-Tung’s parents, who look as if they might die during the City Hall marriage ceremony. I sat horrified just imagining how they might feel at that moment.

Eng’s conclusion is that Asian children are not really respecting parents by forgoing their own wishes to match tradition or expectations. It is the realization of a son or daughter’s own, potentially modern desires that really pushes a family forward, since all parents really want is for their children to be content. Parents’ “wishes” are merely guidelines they perceive to be instrumental in achieving happiness. The final exchange between Mr. Gao and Simon, in which Mr. Gao acknowledges Simon’s romantic relationship with his son, illustrates the point well (though he does still desire a grandson). Honest communication and expressions of self may be key to the parent-child bond, even amid constructs of what is socially expected or hoped-for. Preservation of tradition doesn’t mean much if it causes resentment and denial of identity. Ang Lee, through “Wedding Banquet,” ended up conveying this basic idea.

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