Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-08-19
“Eat Drink Man Woman”, like many of Ang Lee’s films, explores the relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. It seems low key—there are no villains and only a couple of characters are even unpleasant. Everyone wants to do the right thing—Chu wants to keep his adult daughters at home with him while he continues of mourn his wife who has been dead for many years while his daughters want to both live their own lives but realize that they are becoming responsible for his as well. Jai-Ning, the middle daughter, says that they communicate by eating. Chu prepares huge and hugely complicated Sunday dinners with enough food 40 people although only the four of them are around the table. Crises are announced at the dinner table in an almost ritualistic way as each of the daughters tells her sisters and father that she has a small announcement. The least jarring is the first—that one of them has purchased an apartment and will be moving out soon. Others include an unplanned pregnancy, a barely planned wedding and a long planned move to the other side of the world. The climax comes when Chu himself has his own announcement, a device that Lee uses to wrap things up.

The movie is beautiful. As it begins we watch Sihung Lung create a meal that starts with a live fish and a squawking chicken. Lam Leung-Chung’s camera shows all the art and craft that a professional chef brings to his work and in doing so creates a metaphor for the meticulous effort that Lee’s technical team undertook to create the look of this film.

The center of the film is the relationship between Old Chu and his middle daughter Jia-Chien. She very closely resembles her mother—the pictures of Chu’s wife from years past were probably taken from stills of Wu Chien-Lien. Like her father she is an accomplished cook but like her mother she seasons her dishes with too much ginger. She is the only one of the three not to get married during the movie. Even though Jia-Ning, the eldest daughter, seems bitterly resigned to her role as her father’s housekeeper it is Jia-Chien who is hostess for the last Sunday dinner, a meal with only herself and her father.

The conflicts in the family are solved a bit too neatly. The big shock toward the end of the movie won’t surprise anyone who was awake up to that point and the romantic peccadilloes of each of the sisters get resolved in a bit of a rush. The overall tone of the movie, with its themes of the importance of both holding on and letting go, shines through any structural difficulties.

“Eat Drink Man Woman” is worth seeing. If Ang Lee had stayed with family dramas such as “Pushing Hands”, “The Wedding Banquet” and “The Ice Storm” he would be a major talent. Having broken out with audience pleasing and Oscar garnering Hollywood fare doesn’t change that. He creates characters the audience likes, people that we want to see happy at the end and are pleased when they are
Reviewer Score: 8