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The Wedding Banquet

In today's post-"Queer Eye" world, the story of The Wedding Banquet reads like a stale sitcom plot: A gay man with a loving partner can't tell his parents the truth about his lifestyle, so he cooks up a fake marriage with a conveniently desperate woman, only to have it all blow up in his face. But in 1993, when Ang Lee's sweet dramedy first graced art-house screens, it was a much fresher tale — and the good news is that it's aged remarkably well. Most of that is thanks to Lee's heartfelt script (co-written by Neil Peng and James Schamus) and strong performances from the lead actors. Winston Chao stars as Wai Tung, a budding Taiwanese real estate mogul who's been living happily in Manhattan with his Caucasian lover Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) for the past five years. Wai Tung rolls his eyes at his traditional parents' attempts at matchmaking — until he discovers that his father, a retired army general, has had a stroke and held on for just one reason: to see his grandchild born. Enter Wai Tung's tenant/friend Wei Wei (May Chin), a starving artist who'd do anything for a green card. Before you can say "I do," the pair are swapping vows at City Hall in front of Simon and Wai's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gao (Sihung Lung and Ah Lei Gua). But naturally the plan isn't quite as straightforward in practice as it seemed on paper, and complications — not the least of which is a giant wedding banquet in the couple's honor — rapidly ensue. The actors make all of the chaos and misunderstandings feel as genuine, funny, and painful as they would in real life. Chao and Lichtenstein are completely convincing as a devoted couple who find their love stressed to the breaking point by the layers of secrecy Wai Tung has concocted to "protect" his parents. Lee broke some cinematic ground by portraying their relationship as honestly as he did; Wai Tung and Simon live the same way that any happy couple does — with bursts of passion amid domestic tranquility. Unfortunately, Chin is a little too shrill and petulant as Wei Wei (it's hard to understand why Wai Tung and Simon are so fond of her, frankly), but Lung and Gua are both excellent. In the new retrospective featurette included on MGM's Wedding Banquet DVD, Lee explains that he based most of Mr. and Mrs. Gao's dialogue on conversations he's had with his own traditional parents, which explains why their lines seem so authentic. It's easy to see why the director still holds this film so close to his heart: Few contemporary romantic comedies have dealt with themes of love, culture, and sexuality in such a genuine, engaging way. All that said, The Wedding Banquet's strengths lie in it's script and characters, not its cinematography; the widescreen anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer is fine, but nothing special. Audio options include the original English/Mandarin soundtrack (Dolby Digital mono) and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Extras include the featurette and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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