The Wedding Banquet
English Title: The Wedding Banquet
Country of Origin: China
Studio: Ang Lee Productions
Director: Ang Lee
Cinematographer: Lin Jong
Art Director: Rachael Weinzimer
Editor: Tim Squyres
Runtime: 106 minutes
Gao Wai-Tung lives with his white, long-term boyfriend Simon in New York. Under pressure from his parents in Taiwan to get married, he decides to wed his female tenant and impoverished Chinese art student Wei Wei when his parents come to visit. Wei Wei, an illegal immigrant, duly agrees in order to stay in America. This culminates in a huge banquet given to celebrate the ‘marriage.’
Both drunk, Wei Wei ends up sleeping with Wai-Tung on their wedding night and becomes pregnant. Simon is livid, resulting in a huge row between the two lovers. The old couple’s departure is delayed by Mr Gao’s stroke. Wai-Tung comes out to Mrs Gao who speaks to Wei Wei and persuades her to keep the baby. Mr Gao later reveals to Simon that he can understand English and therefore knows that Wai-Tung is gay, and the reason for their argument. Nevertheless, there is an unspoken agreement between all the players. As everyone gathers at the airport to see Mr and Mrs Gao off home to Taiwan, the old couple maintain that they are happy with their son’s marriage and imminent grand-parenthood. Simon, Wai-Tung and Wei Wei compromise to become a ‘family.’
Ang Lee describes The Wedding Banquet as a gay film. Together with Brokeback Mountain (2005) Lee shows a considered interest in gay identity but the narrative of The Wedding Banquet resolves in maintaining the illusion of a heterosexual family. The apologia for Mr and Mrs Gao’s inability to accept their son’s homosexuality comes from both their Chineseness and age/generational difference. Lee’s own cameo appearance as a wedding guest reminds the audiences that they are ‘witnessing the results of five thousand years of sexual repression.’ The central concern of his (Chinese) ‘Father Knows Best’ trilogy (the other two films being Pushing Hands , and Eat Drink Man Woman ) is the social constraints upon the Chinese family.
In contrast to its New York setting, the Chineseness of The Wedding Banquet is connected to Taiwan as ‘home,’ an abstract and distant concept. Wei Wei further acts as a counterpoint to Wai-Tung and his family in a variety of ways. She is artistic but poor (perhaps a Mainland stereotype), as opposed to Wai-Tung, the Taiwanese American slumlord. She is modern while Mrs Gao is traditional. Even this modern woman fails to fully accept Wai-Tung’s sexuality as she claims during seduction, ‘I am going to liberate you.’ Other than the amount of alcohol and the heightened sexual overtones of the nuptial games, she may also be pressurized to consummate her fake marriage by the care her surrogate parents show to her, and so continuing the patrilinear line.
Ang Lee’s depiction of the gay couple mirrors the traditional familial roles, with Simon and Wai-Tung’s relationship being as close to the monogamous and middle-class family as possible. Simon is the one who can cook, looks after Mr Gao after his stroke, and in return the one the old man confides in. The cross-cultural relationship between Mr Gao and Simon echoes that between the father and the white daughter-in-law in Pushing Hands. As such, Simon seems to occupy the role of the ‘first wife,’ while Wei Wei has to learn how to be a daughter-in-law after accidentally becoming one.
The family in the film is therefore both a performance and performative. Mrs Gao believes that Wai-Tung has turned gay as a result of over-exposure to American culture and makes him promise not to tell his father. Mr Gao reveals to Simon that he has already figured it out but kept quiet so he could have his grandson. Despite tacitly acknowledging Wai-Tung’s homosexuality, the elderly couple’s wish to continue the family line takes priority as they remind their son of the hardship of Mr Gao Senior’s escape from Mainland China to Taiwan. The responsibility weighs on Wai-Tung as he is an only child due to a difficult birth. Mrs Gao cries after the ‘shabby wedding’ at the registry office because she will not be able to face friends and family, so the ungrateful son Wai-Tung is forced to give a grand banquet with copious amount of drinking, noise, banter and disturbance. The wedding banquet is the ultimate performative façade for the heterosexual family.
The performance comes to an end as everyone gathers around the wedding photographs at the climax. The old couple are happy even though they know the underlying truth they leave behind in America, as Mr Gao remarks, ‘All the weeds will come back when I’m gone.’ The freeze-frame at the end as Mr and Mrs Gao walk down the tunnel and are stopped by airport security may be a sign that they are leaving a world they do not belong to (in terms of nationality, sexualities and the young generation). The fact that Mr Gao holds his hands up signals a degree of surrender to the Port Authority, symbolic of the West, that permits his safe return to the East he knows best.
Author of this review: Leung Wing-Fai