Thursday, October 16, 2014
12:54 AM |
1993 Best Foreign Language Film Reloaded: How to Hide in the Closet
Part 5 of a Series
What a wonderful romp this film was. This was the first film of the Oscar-honored bunch that I saw, 21 years ago, and it has retained its charms after all these years. Coming a year before Eat Drink Man Woman
and a year after Pushing Hands
, The Wedding Banquet
would complete a kind of trilogy depicting the small upheavals in Taiwanese family lives. These films are as observant as the best of Yasujiro Ozu's but with none of the distant formality: Ang Lee's early films are drenched in food, cosmopolitan quirkiness, and dramatic gestures, and all these to excavate the often unsubtle negotiations between the traditional and the modern in the Taiwanese family.
Temperamentally different by miles and miles from any of the other films in the nominee list so far, Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet
was a surprise Oscar contender. That Taiwan submitted it given the unapologetic -- and positive (gasp!
) -- way the film tackled the gay relationship central to the story was already a surprise. That the Oscars would also bite was another surprise, although 1993 was also the year Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia
came out as a major mainstream offering. Philadelphia
's serious subject matter -- homosexuality and AIDS -- proved to be something Oscar could not ignore, and soon dutifully handed over an acting statuette to Tom Hanks for what was considered a "brave" performance as an AIDS victim seeking redress. The Wedding Banquet
is the lighter side of the gay spotlight that year: no victims here, no troubling darkness -- only the hijinks of a domestic drama involving a closeted gay Taiwanese businessman, his intrepid American lover, his doting parents who keep expressing a wish for him to get married, and finally his desperate Chinese tenant, a female painter who becomes the willing partner in a plot hatched by the two gay men to get the parents off their backs. There will be a fake marriage for a green card. A surprise wedding ceremony soon complicates things -- and the twisting and turning of these complications are what keeps the suspense for the movie.
I love the lightness of Ang Lee's touch in his early films, the way he manages to navigate through his culture to find insights to universal dilemmas. The rest of the 1990s would see him try to do the same for cultures outside of his own -- Sense and Sensibility
in 1995, The Ice Storm
in 1997, and Ride with the Devil
in 1999, before returning to his Chinese roots and finally making a definite mark in 2000 with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
-- but those early 1990s films are where he has poured his heart out.
It shares with Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine
the menage a trois
theme (two men in a relationship and the woman invading it!) at the center of their complications, but The Wedding Banquet
is actually the better film. It's more complex in its mapping of its human stories, which is easily overlooked because of its contemporary setting and its comedy. The historical seriousness and the elaborately costumed drama of Concubine,
however, are blinding flashes of fireworks that hide the fact there's not much there.
Trần Anh Hùng's The Scent of Green Papaya
Labels: film, oscar, queer
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