Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thoughts on Wedding Banquet

There are three aspects to the film that I want to point out:

1)    Re-sexualization of the Asian male body: In the whole film, there is the “sexualization” of a single Asian male body - that of Wai Tung - in the face of a completely desexualized father/patriarch figure who, upon seeing his future “daughter-in-law,” says, “She will make lots of babies” and only seems to think of Weiwei as an important contributing factor to the continuance of the Gao family name. Other foils to Wai Tung’s sexuality are the male guests who are somewhat rowdy at the banquet – one Asian guest comments to a white guest, “You’re witnessing the result of 5000 years of sexual repression” – but are reduced to forming a ring around and watching the bed where Weiwei and Wai Tung are undressing under the covers. It seems significant, however, that the only really sexual Asian male in the movie is homosexual because in the strict sense of sexuality in traditional Asian cultures, his type of sexuality would not even count because he would not be able to produce offspring. Also, homosexuality even in the United States – perhaps not in New York City but nationally – was not then and still is not seen as an acceptable form of sexuality and is seen as merely a perversion of the real thing, which is reminiscent of what Wai Tung’s mother seems to want to believe. It was difficult for me to understand exactly what Lee might have been trying to convey in using sexuality in his film, given that there is a sexual empowerment of the Asian male body – sexuality for sexuality’s sake – but the much more explicit sexuality of the female Asian body of Weiwei seems still to play to the over-sexualization of Asian/Asian-American women. It is interesting to note, however, that in the gay couple’s relationship, Wai Tung is the “manlier” of the two men, taking care of the fiscal responsibilities and more disciplined (although this may have arisen equally well from the model minority profile).

2)    Chiang’s brief mention of patriarchs: Just to add to what Chiang says about the film being an attempt to protect the patriarchal system which is under fire, there are many scenes in which the father is physically incapacitated. There remains a visual imagery of sleep (onto the point of death even when Wai Tung checks his father’s breath to see if he’s still live) and illness that are associated with the crumbling patriarch of the Gao family.

3)    Last scene of the film: The very last scene in which Wai Tung’s parents, after bidding their son’s strange family farewell, are stopped by a gloved, white security guard and the father raises both of his hands from his sides into the air, high above his head. The movie stops at this point, holding this image for a few seconds before rolling credits. It seems to be an interesting frame to end on because it almost seems to say that although Wai-Tung’s parents had come to America to witness their only son’s normal wedding to the nice Chinese girl to propagate their gene pool, they are leaving and surrendering to the situation of their Americanized son and his society. At the banquet, one of the guests says, “This is a cross-cultural event. Anything goes,” but for the father and the mother, that “anything goes” has meant letting go of their attempts to forge an old-world view on their new world son and necessarily giving in.

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