It could only have been a matter of time before this blog would once again be delighted with a visit from the work of Taiwanese writer/director Ang Lee. Currently stewing in the broth of critical and public receivership with his latest feature to hit the big screen, the 3D spectacular “Life of Pi” has yet to convince me of purchasing a cinema ticket despite all of its glitz and glamor. However instead I thought of digging up this buried gem from a period of Lee’s career that few are aware of and fewer still have seen. The early 90’s saw the director at a transitional point in his career. After enjoying moderate success with his 1993 American comedy “The Wedding Banquet”, Lee would ironically leave the US and head back to his homeland of Taiwan to work on what would become a very warming, and aptly deft comedy about human life.
“Eat Drink Man Woman” is the story of legendary, aging chef Chu and his three maturing daughters, all of whom have left the nest and started lives with other people. This would be fine for Chu if he himself wasn’t lonely and feeling more and more useless as his daughters no longer require his paternal skills in their lives. To add to Chu’s problems he is also beginning to lose his sense of taste, slowly turning his once delicious meals into half-edible catastrophes. In the end result of screenwriters Wang Hui-Ling, James Schamus and Lee’s story is a touching whilst witty adage to the inevitable, yet often unspoken, truths concerning life. Lee, as always, excels in delivering superb performances from Taiwan’s native actors, including a stridently solid performance from Sihung Lung; an often collaborator with the director.
Eat Drink is a comedy rich with sub-textual variety. The separate, yet all too similar, lives of each of Chu’s distinctly different daughters is intriguing to watch play out. The narrative is chapterised with several dinner sequences that bind the main cast together, leaving plenty of room for hysterical interaction between each character. To top it all off the ‘delicious’ cinematography provided by Lin Jong, only adds to the viewer’s own personal hunger to consume what Chu’s delicately cooks on the screen. The first five minutes of the film are difficult to watch only out of jealousy for how Westerners prepare food compared to the protagonists incredible skills in the kitchen.
Gastroenterology may not be the overall theme in Lee’s narrative but it is the level of human heart that counts whilst enjoying this piece. The simple, but often effective, motifs of age, family and regret all make there appearances, but don’t let me give you the impression Eat Drink is a downer. The clever way in which its story interweaves the lives of young people just starting out in the world can be appreciated no matter what decade a film is shot in. Just as much as the film’s screenplay provides something for everyone, no matter what age. Anybody can relate to the overall message of the film in the scripts coda, it’s just a crime so few have been able to see it. Would a British DVD release hurt at all? What’s the message I hear you wonder, ah now where would the fun be in telling? Eat Drink is a very special film, both for its rarity and style, but also for a supremely relatable tale, watch and enjoy…just eat heavily before you do!