If you imagine a combination of the storylines of "La Cage Aux Folles" and the 1991 hit "Greencard", you have the basic plot of "The Wedding Banquet". What the movie lacks in originality, however, is quickly forgotten as this touching love story unfolds. Director and co-writer Ang Lee manages to throw enough spin into the storyline to make "The Wedding Banquet" a sweet, funny and refreshing love story.
The movie, set in Manhattan, centers around Wai-Tung, (Winston Chao), a Taiwanese Yuppie, and his lover of five years, Simon(Mitchell Lichtenstein). Wai-Tung's unsuspecting parents, who live in Taiwan, are worried their only son will never marry, and as a result constantly suggest suitable young women for Wai-Tung. They even go so far as to enroll Wai-Tung in a dating service in Taiwan. Wai-Tung, in an effort to end his parents' badgering, describes his ideal woman as 5'9", a double Ph.D, an opera singer and fluent in five languages. Even this did not stop his parents, who found an almost perfect match, (she only had one Ph.D) and flew her immediately to New York.
Finally, in an effort to appease Wai-Tung's parents, Simon suggests Wai-Tung consider marrying a mutual friend, Wei-Wei, played by May Chin as an aspiring artist who desperately needs a green card. Unfortunately Wai-Tung's parents are so ecstatic with the news they decide to fly from Taiwon to meet the young bride and prepare for the wedding. Wai-Tung, Simon and Wei-Wei immediately rush into a frenzy to rearrange their lives and prepare for the parents' arrival. After Wai-Tung's parents settle in New York the plot becomes a little convoluted, ending with Wai-Tung and Simon fighting and Wei-Wei pregnant.
Although the film was filled with many successful comic scenes, as the action became more serious much of the acting seemed forced and unrealistic. When Simon and Wai-Tung fought, there was so much focus on screaming and slamming it distracted from the real emotion of the argument. Similarly, when Wai-Tung's motivation for deciding to finally tell his mom was unclear and made the scene difficult to believe.
The film does an excellent job in immediately establishing definite, interesting characters. For example, every aspect of Wai-Tung's life screams Yuppie. He drives a Mercedes, lives in a beautiful home, doesn't eat junk food and decides which boxers to wear according to the day of the week. Unfortunately, none of the characters seemed to develop beyond their initial portrayals. The exception was Wai-Tung's father, an endearing old man, whose love for his son is so strong he eventually surprises everyone.
The actual wedding banquet, the focus and highlight of the movie, contains many of the funniest scenes, as Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei try to successfully survive their prolonged ordeal. Despite Wai-Tung's efforts to keep the wedding as simple as possible, his parents succeed in making it a huge affair with hundreds of guests who sing, dance, gamble, eat and drink into oblivion. The clothing and scenery during the banquet are so exquisite subtitles.
The film also does a very good job at examining the culture-clash between Wai-Tung, who is thoroughly Americanized, and his Taiwanese parents. It is obvious from the beginning of the film when Wai-Tung has an awkward encounter with a friend from Taiwan that Wai-Tung no longer feels completely comfortable with Taiwanese life. The conflicts that Wai-Tung feels as he attempts to reconcile his upbringing with the life that he has established in America, ranging from his sexuality to the decorations in his home, are expressed thoughtfully and sensitively throughout the film.
In "The Wedding Banquet," Ang Lee manages to combine a fairly traditional storyline with enough slightly controversial themes to make this a funny and timely movie.