Monday, March 10, 2008

Wedding Banquet: Cross-Cultural Confusion/Collusion

The Wedding Banquet presents a different take on generational relations than most films involving Asian families that I've seen. The classic nagging mother, and the wise, quiet father appear in this movie, but in the end, their roles are somewhat out of the ordinary.

Wai Tung, a Taiwanese queer businessman living in Manhattan with his white lover, Simon, is cajoled by his parents on a regular basis about getting married and producing an heir. His parents, back in Taiwan, are so eager for him to marry that they enroll him in various dating services to find his "perfect woman". However, he chooses instead a "marriage of convenience", to give one of his tenants, Wei-Wei, a greencard, and to get his parents off his back. Everyone seems to think that this is a great idea. However, once Wai Tung's parents decide to come visit him and witness the wedding, things get out of hand.

After reading Chiang's "Coming Out in the Global System", my opinion of the film changed significantly. The nexus of the banquet as a point of change from comedy to melodrama makes the film more complex and less fluffy, and I appreciate how the characters grow and change over the course of Wai Tung's parents' visit. The women in this film are both empowered and weak; Sister Mao and Wei-Wei have both been "Westernized", each is accomplished in her own way: Sister Mao speaks five languages, has a PhD, and is a classically trained opera singer, while Wei Wei is a struggling but talented artist. However, they are both forced to marry; Sister Mao by her parents, and Wei Wei by her need for a greencard. They want to be modern, but are constrained by tradition and/or family loyalty.

The wedding banquet itself was quite interesting to me. I've been to a Chinese wedding before, but the one portrayed in the film was notable for its melding of Chinese/Western elements. Wei Wei wears a long, white, American-style bridal gown, and there are white guests at the wedding (I kept waiting for one of them to get drunk enough to announce Wai Tung's sexuality, but fortunately, that did not occur); the rituals, however, are mostly Chinese: the lotus flower soup, the invasion of the newlywed suite. At the end of the wedding, we even meet two Chinese male wedding crashers. As Wai Tung's friend, The Law says, "This is a cross-cultural event -- everything goes!"

At the end of the movie, I was both pleased and dismayed. Wai Tung's father, ever the sagacious paternal figure, confesses to Simon that "if [he] didn't let them lie, [he'd] never have gotten [his] grandchild". The joke, then, is on the audience. However, the fact that Wai Tung's sexuality is never openly discussed among all the members of the family is rather dismaying to me, even though they're all aware of it. It only serves to promote a culture of silence around homosexuality in the Asian community; even though Wai Tung's parents are accepting, it is only because he has already complied with their wishes and given them what they wanted. I suppose this compromise is the best possible outcome for the family, but I'm not sure if I find it "right".

No comments: