Wedding Banquet, The (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) has a problem. Living in New York with a well-paying job, a nice home, and a stable relationship (with Simon, played by Mitchell Lichtenstein), everything appears to be going his way. But his parents, unaware of his homosexual proclivities, are expecting a marriage and grandchildren, and Wai hasn't been able to get up the courage to tell them that he's gay. Meanwhile, Wei Wei (May Chin), a tenant in a building owned by Wai, has to find a way to obtain a green card or be deported. A solution to both problems is proposed: a marriage of convenience. Once agreed to by both parties, the arrangements are made, and everything seems to be working out well until Wai's parents arrive from China to plan the wedding banquet.

What at first seems like a simple romantic comedy is actually a deceptively perceptive look at cultural, sexual, and generational differences. And, despite The Wedding Banquet's often-light, occasionally-playful tone, a forceful dramatic structure underlies the film. Of course, this is what usually makes for the best kind of comedy -- a movie that cares more about its story and characters than making people laugh. Chinese-American writer/director/producer Ang Lee displays a remarkable aptitude for presenting a balanced view of issues while avoiding the dangerous trap of cliches and stereotypes. All the characters have their own unique identities.

While there isn't anything revolutionary in the story, and some of the "twists" are easy to predict, it's never clear until the end how everything is going to be resolved. And, although it deals with potentially-weighty issues and some very powerful emotional impulses, The Wedding Banquet never becomes bogged down by its own seriousness. Lee manages to keep the production buoyant by including scenes that are often riotously funny.

The actors are uniformly good. May Chin, a huge pop star in Taiwan, gives a complex rendering of Wei Wei, conveying the churning emotions of the one person in this film who really has no one. Although this is his screen debut, Winston Chao doesn't show any obvious chinks in his performance. Mitchell Lichtenstein's Simon could easily have slipped into obscurity, but the actor maintains a strong enough presence to avoid such an ignominious fate. Stately and dignified, Sihung Lung and Ah-Leh Gua breathe life into Mr. and Mrs. Gao, Wai's parents.

It's understandable why The Wedding Banquet won the Golden Bear award at the 1993 Berlin Film Festival and the Best Film and Best Director citations at the 1993 Seattle International Film Festival. There is enough depth in this picture to fill up several movies, yet The Wedding Banquet shortchanges none of its interwoven storylines. While I won't go so far as to say that this is a magical motion picture, it certainly serves as excellent entertainment on more than one level.

Wedding Banquet, The (United States, 1993)

Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Winston Chao, May Chin, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Sihung Lung, Ah-Leh Gua
Screenplay: Ang Lee, Neil Peng, and James Schamus
Music: Mader
U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 1993-08-27
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: Some English subtitled Mandarin Chinese
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: