Before Lust, Caution (2007), before Brokeback Mountain (2005), before The Hulk (2003), and even before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee was well known in international movie circles for his very well received The Wedding Banquet, which was released in 1993.
The story basics start with three characters, Wai-Tung and Simon, a gay male couple, and Wei-Wei, a beautiful struggling artist who is a tenant in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, rental apartment property owned by the portfolio diverse Wai-Tung.
Wai-Tung has not told his parent that he is gay. Said parents continue to harangue him about getting married and presenting them with grandchildren. And Wei-Wei is facing deportation from the US unless she can marry an American.
Well, Wai-tung is a naturalized American citizen, so a ‘marriage’ of convenience between he and Wei-Wei is designed by the threesome. Wai-tung announces this to his parents in Taipei, and to his shock and dismay, they promptly announce that they are flying in to meet the bride, and arrange the wedding, as a civil ceremony only just won’t do.
So the structure of the funny and yet heartwarming film is set in motion. We watch in glee as various subterfuges are created to deceive Wai-tung’s Taiwanese parents; the father a retired Army General, and his mother, a very proper Chinese matron.
One of the film’s tag-lines is: A little deception at the reception. Another tag-line is: Everyone at the wedding wanted to kiss the bride – except the groom.
And Lee has done a marvelous job with the script, which he co-authored with Neil Peng and James Schamus. The production is quite sumptuous and looks far better than you would expect from a production budget of less than a million dollars.
As for the cast, Winston Chao portrays Wai-Tung. This was his first role as a movie actor. And he turns in an excellent performance as a man who is struggling to be happy himself as well as making his parent happy. He’s caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: his own sexuality, and his desire to placate his parents.
Simon, is played by Mitchell Lichtenstein, and he is truly the odd-man out. As Wai-Tung’s significant other, he is always around and he needs to be presented (to the parents) as an integral part of Wai-Tung’s life, yet the actual truth cannot be revealed.
Finally, there is the gorgeous Wei-Wei who is played by the beautiful Taiwanese pop-star, May Chin. Her role is the most precarious because she knows Wai-Tung is gay, and she knows that the marriage is a sham, and despite this, she develops strong feelings towards him. It is way more than a crush.
There you have it. This is not La Cage aux Folles, despite beginning in a somewhat similar mode. The film is enjoyable and easily crosses cultural and sexual lines, and is very accessible to all adult viewers, Chinese or American, gay or straight, as well as those looking for a film that has a comedic side as well as a dramatic side.