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The Wedding Banquet/ Xi Yan

Year of release: 1993

Directed by: Ang Lee

United States, Taiwan, Province of China

Wai-Tung, a Taiwanese American,  lives with his American partner Simon in a long-term gay relationship in Manhattan.  Wai-Tung's Taiwan-based parents are unaware of their son’s sexual orientation and want him to get married to a Chinese woman and produce an heir so as to continue the family line.

He submits to his parents’ pressure to get married but without actually relinquishing his gay, Westernised lifestyle by choosing Wei-Wei, a penniless artist and illegal immigrant from Shanghai, who needs a Green Card as a spouse for a sham wedding.  When Wai-Tung’s parents, Mr and Mrs Gao, fly in from Taiwan, eager to meet their new daughter-in-law, Wai-Tung, Simon and Wei-Wei set in motion a masquerade of Chinese authenticity, replacing photos by Chinese calligraphy on the walls of their apartment and cooking traditional Chinese food to please Mr. and Mrs. Gao.

Beholden to his parents through filial piety, a central value in Confucian family ethics, Wai-Tung goes ahead with the marriage but is painfully conscious of the deceit this involves. He and Wei-Wei choose a low-key civil wedding in the City Hall during which Wei-Wei deliberately fluffs her lines when saying her vows as if this made the sham wedding a lesser lie. The justice of the peace in the shabby City Hall marries couples unceremoniously, one after the other in a conveyer-belt like fashion. Mr and Mrs Gao are understandably disappointed by their son’s casual approach to such an important ritual. When an old friend of Mr Gao, now the owner of a posh Chinese restaurant in New York, suddenly offers to host an elaborate traditional wedding banquet all is well. Yet the happy ending is not as facile as it may seem, since the wedding banquet does not coincide with the film’s narrative closure. Instead, romantic comedy becomes heavily overlaid with family melodrama as the narrative takes an unexpected turn.  The lavish wedding celebrations culminate in the inebriated Wai-Tung being seduced by Wei-Wei (who would have liked to marry Wai-Tung for real) and thereby impregnating Wei-Wei.

The unexpected pregnancy puts new pressures upon Simon and Wai-Tung's relationship. Eventually Wei-Wei decides to keep the baby and invites Simon to co-parent. It also transpires that Mr. Gao has no been as dumb and ignorant as his son believed and has been aware of the true nature of his son's relationship with Simon all along. However, rather than revealing this to his son, he hands a red envelope filled with money (a traditional Chinese present given at family celebrations such as weddings) to Simon, thereby accepting him in the circle of the family. The new family that is created is a hybrid in which traditional Confucian family values are realised albeit in the distinctly post-modern set-up of a ménage à trois involving a queer couple and a Green Card bride. 

Internet Movie Database

Filed under: Inter-ethnic romance | Patriarchy | Queer diaspora | Secrets | Wedding / Marriage

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