We gave it a C+
The delighted word of mouth going around about Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet is ironic when you consider that the film is an old-fashioned comedy of errors gussied up in ambisexual, cross-cultural clothing. Then again, that’s probably why people like it.
Admittedly, Banquet gives us a hero we don’t usually see in movies: a Yappie, or Young Asian Professional. Wai Tung (Winston Chao) is a dapper New York real estate maven, living an assimilated life of which his parents, Chinese expatriates who remained behind in Taiwan, haven’t a clue. For one thing, they don’t know that their son shares his Greenwich Village apartment with a longtime lover, Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein), so they’re always after him to settle down with a nice Chinese girl. Against his better judgment, Wai Tung enters into a marriage of convenience with Wei-Wei (May Chin), a fiercely bohemian artist: The deal is that she’ll get a green card and he’ll get a break from the long-distance noodging.
Of course, once Mom and Pop hear about the engagement, they immediately come to New York and hector son and fiancee into partaking in a massive Chinese wedding banquet. The elaborate tower of white lies keeps growing, with Simon particularly annoyed at being cast as Wai Tung’s ”roommate” while preparing the Chinese meals that domestically impaired Wei-Wei passes off as her own.
The Wedding Banquet is really more concerned with the collision of generations than of cultures: With a comic knowingness, Lee shows us the contortions that adult children go through to live up to their parents’ image of them. But the movie’s so busy being ”gentle” and ”wise” that it winds up having little bite. The amateurish performances hobble the film too: Only Chin throws off sparks as the grumpy, sultry painter, and that’s in the initial scenes. By the end, she’s as nice, and as dull, as everyone else. C+