Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Movie Review: Eat Drink Man Woman

Taiwan, 1994
U.S. Release Date: 8/3/94
Running Time: 2:04
Rated: Not Rated (Mature themes)
Cast: Sihung Lung, Kuei-Mei-Yang, Chien-Lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang, Winston Chao, Chao-Jung Chen

Director: Ang Lee
Producer: Li-Kong Hsu
Screenplay: Ang Lee, James Schamus, and Hui-Ling Wang
Music: Mader
Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company
In Mandarin with English subtitles

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From the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Wedding Banquet, and the imminent 2005 Oscar contender Brokeback Mountain, comes this charming Chinese food film entitled Yin shi nan nu, which literally translates to “eat, drink, sex.” With Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, these essential ingredients of life serve as both a substitute for communication in the characters’ familial relationships and the crux of the storyline. By gracefully and colorfully blending the enriching traditions of food with the love and nostalgia of the father-daughter bond, Lee makes Eat Drink Man Woman a universally heartfelt and harmonious drama.

Every Sunday, father, widower, and master chef Tao Chu (Sihung Lung) slaves over the hot stove and cooks an extensive multiple-course-meal for himself and his three unappreciative daughters. Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei-Yang), the oldest, is a chemistry teacher in her late twenties, and in-between her lectures on valance electrons and orbitals, she chooses to look after her aging father, lament the loss of her former lover, and worship Jesus Christ as her loving savior. Jia-Chen (Chien-Lien Wu), the middle daughter, is a busy corporate executive for a major airline company. Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), the youngest of the three, is a cashier - at the local Wendy’s fast-food restaurant – who inadvertently steals her friend’s boyfriend.

At each of the Chu’s Sunday meals (or “torture rituals” as the three daughters label them), someone exclaims, “I have an announcement to make.” With these words, the words that follow initially appear detrimental to the very fabric of the family. When Jia-Chen explains that she is moving out, or when Jia-Jen and Jia-Ning discuss their wishes to marry, Master Chu realizes that just like his sense of taste, his girls are leaving him in his old-age. However, the actions that push the family farther apart ultimately bring them closer together.

Eat Drink Man Woman drives home the theme that fathers knows best. Throughout the film, Chu’s Confucian fatherly figure – for the most part – lacks fluent communication with his daughters; yet, in the end, he exploits the strength of family ties and the importance of verbalizing his love. Even though there may have been both a contrast between his and his children’s attitude towards the dynamics of the family and a distinct separation between their perceptions of being selfish and selfless, Chu elects to redefine himself and his relationship with his daughters.

Perhaps Eat Drink Man Woman’s most intriguing attribute is that, amid all of its poignant family moments, it still manages to incorporate a few unexpected twists. Not that the film goes as far as turning everything that has come before on its ear, but when the plot does twist, it is entirely unpredictable and surprisingly effective.

Eat Drink Man Woman is mellow, moving, and visually stunning. And even though it is slow-moving at times, never is it boring. With its wondrous cinematography (especially the walk-through of the monstrous kitchen and the pan of the final family dinner) and neatly trimmed script, Eat Drink Man Woman defines itself as one of the most lustrous food films to date.

At one point in this flavorsome film, Master Chu tells his friend, “My food is only as good as the expression on your face.” If the same line of thinking is applied to this film experience, most are certain to exit their seats with a smile that is warm and hearty. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005