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EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (Yin shi nan nu)(director/writer: Ang Lee; screenwriter: Hui-Ling Wang/James Schamus; cinematographer: Jong Lin; editor: Tim Squyres; music: Mader; cast: Sylvia Chang (Jin-Rong), Winston Chao (Li Kai), Chao-Jung Chen (Guo-Lun), Ah-Leh Gua (Mrs. Liang), Chin-Cheng Lu (Ming-Dao), Sihung Lung (Mr. Chu), Yu-Wen Wang (Jia-Ning), Yu-Chien Tang (Shan-Shan), Chien-lien Wu (Jia-Chien), Kuei-Mei-Yang (Jia-Jen), Lester Chit-Man Chan (Raymond), Yu Chen (Rachel), Yu-Chien Tang (Shan-Shan, young daughter of Jin-Rong); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Li-Kong Hsu; MGM Home Entertainment; 1994-Taiwan-in Mandarin with English subtitles)
“The creatively decorative food presentations upstage the soap opera story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A zesty comedy melodrama set in Taipei (shot in Taiwan) and directed by Ang Lee as a follow up to his equally sugary international hit The Wedding Banquet. This pleasant soap opera tale unfortunately goes on for too long, becomes too messy in its use of food as a metaphor for love, paints the characters with much too thin veneers and the story never has much weight. The shallow script is blended together by Lee, Hui-Ling Wang and regular collaborator James Schamus. Its simple theme is that “Food and sex are basic human desires and they can’t be avoided.”

A widower for the last 16 years, the aging master chef at a hotel, Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung), the best chef in Taipei, lives a joyless lonely life at home with his three single twentysomething daughters: the oldest is Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei-Yang), a Christian and a high school chemistry teacher; the middle daughter is Jia-Chien (Chien-lien Wu), a workaholic and ambitious executive for an airline company; and the youngest is Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), the laid-back 20-year-old Wendy’s fast-food counter worker (you would think her occupational move is a real slap in dad’s face). Dad’s problem is that he’s a great chef but a lousy communicator, and has no clue what’s happening with his daughters.

The taciturn Chu has lost his sense of taste (can’t even enjoy his own great cooking) and seemingly can only communicate with his daughters through their ritualized Sunday feast he prepares, though at these dinners something always comes up that leaves them upset with each other and shows there’s a widening generation gap. Chu would like to see them married but is too repressed to talk about it, and they would like to leave the house but don’t know how to. The still heartbroken Jia-Jen was supposedly dumped by her college lover some nine years ago and takes comfort only in being a devoted Christian and a hard-nosed, prim and humorless teacher, but she secretly yearns for the sexy new volleyball coach Ming-Dao. Jia-Chien is having casual sex with her artist ex-lover Raymond (Lester Chit-Man Chan) and has developed a close relationship with a smug married workplace executive named Li Kai (Winston Chao). Lightweight Jia-Ning has stolen the boyfriend from her fast-food workplace friend Rachel (Yu Chen), who reads Dostoyevsky but that’s not enough to give him the smarts to prevent him from easily getting manipulated by the aggressive girl’s seduction.

Chu will also have a surprise for his family. The overbearing and totally obnoxious loudmouth family friend Mrs. Liang (Ah-Leh Gua), also widowed, on her return from her visit to the States aggressively pursues the withdrawn Chu. In the meantime Chu has become friendly with Mrs. Liang’s sweet divorced daughter Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang) and her elementary school daughter Shan-Shan, whom he prepares exotic school lunches for her and her classmates.

In the end, the creatively decorative food presentations upstage the soap opera story and left me hungering for some authentic gourmet Chinese cuisine, or to at least somehow get a sniff of the delicacies that looked so visually appetizing (like from a photo in a food ‘zine). But the feel-good story is easily forgotten after a half-hour, making me realize this one is all about the food.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”