Sunday, March 9, 2008

“This is a cross cultural event. Everything goes!”

Everybody wants to kiss the bride. Except the groom.

Based on a synopsis of the plot of “The Wedding Banquet,” this film seems pretty ridiculous. An interracial gay couple tries to hide their marriage from unsuspecting Asian parents by planning a faux marriage to an illegal Chinese immigrant. While it seems like this would be a recipe for a disaster, despite all of the deceit, in the end the expecting illegal Chinese immigrant and gay couple decide to raise the child amongst the three of them. Despite the twisted plot, I really enjoyed the film. Watching a group of radically different characters attempt to resolve a constantly detoriating dilemma.

I was intrigued by the treatment of Chinese tradition in the film. From one side you had Wai-Tung’s conflict between obeying the wishes of his parents and his relationship with Simon. On the other side you had the Americanization and modernization of Chinese traditions. Several scenes in the film showed this conflict. One scene was the comical transformation of Simon and Wai-Tung’s home before his parents come to visit. Their pictures and iconic gay artwork comes down and is replaced by Wai-Tung’s family photographs and scrolls of Chinese calligraphy. The life that Wai-Tung has chosen to live in America does not include Chinese tradition and for him it is only an occasional annoyance (filling a questionnaire for a dating service and a middle-of-the-night phone call from his parents).

The wedding banquet scene also provides some interesting commentary on Chinese tradition. Taking place in a hotel owned by one of Mr. Gao’s former soldiers (a link to old Chinese tradition), the banquet is attended by upper class Chinese/Taiwanese Americans who engage in lots of heavy drinking and marriage games. At the banquet, a shocked white party-goer comments: “God, I thought the Chinese were meek, quiet math whizzes.” The Chinese party-goer (who is actually Ang Lee) replies: “You are witnessing the results of 5,000 years of sexual repression.” At the banquet, the first and second generation party-goers attempt to Americanize Chinese tradition and engage in what Mark Chiang calls a “masquerade of tradition.”

In the end of the film, the tradition is reduced to nothing but a formality. Building layers of lies on top of each other, even though all of the family members know about Simon and Wai-Tung’s relationship, the Chinese tradition prevents it from being out in the open. When Simon asks Mr. Gao why the web of lies needs to continue, he doesn’t know either and replies at least it will produce him a grandchild. Wrestling with questions of assimilation and adaptation of traditions, “The Wedding Banquet” creates a space to analyze the evolving attitudes towards Chinese tradition of younger generations in America.

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