Three Reasons to Watch: Eat Drink Man Woman
Every week, Curzon or a guest editor recommends a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week, it’s multiple Oscar-winner Ang Lee’s delicious culinary-themed family drama.
Before becoming one of the most versatile and intelligent filmmakers in Hollywood, with such a diverse body of work as Sense and Sensibility (1995), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Hulk (2003) and Life of Pie (2012), Ang Lee started out with a series of films set within Taiwanese culture and its diaspora, known as the ‘Father Knows Best’ trilogy. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) was the third and best of the films.
The story centres on Chu, a widower and celebrated chef in Tapei, who has three very different daughters (Chien Lien Wu Song, Yu-Wen Wang, Chien-Lien Wu). Chu has a problem, a kiss of death for someone in his profession: he has lost his sense of taste. But is this a permanent affliction or has it something to do with the way his life is playing out – an outward projection of a life out of balance? And if this is the case, how can Chu rectify the problem? Enter Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang), a neighbour who seems to offer something that Chu’s life has been lacking.
A classmate of Spike Lee’s at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, Lee’s career began to take off when he entered two screenplays to a competition run by the Taiwanese government. He won both the first and second prize, for Pushing Hands (1991) and The Wedding Banquet (1993), which became his first two features. Key to Lee’s progress was Focus Features, a small New York-based indie production outfit run by James Schamus and Ted Hope. Schamus, in particular, would become a key collaborator, writing many of the screenplays Lee filmed, including an outstanding adaptation of Rick Moody’s 1970s-set novel The Ice Storm (1997).
All three ‘Father Knows Best’ films feature Lung. In Pushing Hands he is the estranged father who comes to live with his son and American wife in the US. Gradually, the daughter-in-law and ageing patriarch build a tentative relationship and greater understanding of each other’s needs. The title references Tai-chi, which the old man teaches to an ever-growing class. In The Wedding Banquet, Lung is the visiting father of a man who is gay but afraid to come out to his parents. But acceptance proves easier for someone who has witnessed much intolerance in their life.
Food is central to Chi’s life and its preparation becomes central to the key scenes in the film. Just as the wrong ingredient or too much salt can destroy a dish, so emotions need to be tempered between family members, particularly one populated with different and strong personalities. Lee and Schamus’ screenplay, co-written with Wang Hui-Ling, perfectly captures the nuances of these relationships, creating a film that has as many satisfying courses as the meals that Chi has long been celebrated for.
Three reasons to watch Eat Drink Man Woman
Sihung Lung. In the third of four collaborations with Lee (he would later appear as a friend of Chow Yun-Fat’s master in 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Lung gives his most expansive performance here. Like all his work, he excels in the subtlety of his performance. There are no grandstanding speeches or raging histrionics, just a father trying to do the best with his life.
Sylvia Chang. An acclaimed director in her own right, Chang’s performance as Chu’s possible love interest is beautifully understated and witty, setting up one of the main conflicts in the film, wherein Chu’s daughters find his attentions distracted by the new arrival.
The food. From the film’s opening moments, Lee’s film is a feast for the eyes and taste buds. Eat Drink Man Woman ranks alongsideLike Water for Chocolate (1992), Babette’s Feast (1987) and Tampopo (1985) as one of the all-time-great films about food. Just make sure you’ve eaten before you start watching it!
Eat Drink Man Woman
Oscar winner Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) follows his earlier ‘Pushing Hands’ and ‘The Wedding Banquet’ with the immensely entertaining final part of his ‘Father Knows Best’ trilogy. This Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated film is a celebration of love, life and cuisine. Just make sure to eat before you start watching!
Mr. Chu is an acclaimed chef at a top restaurant in Taiwan. But he has a problem – he’s lost his sense of taste. And it might be linked to a deeper, emotional problem. At the same time, he has to contend with his three grown daughters, strong-minded, strong-willed and each believing they know what’s best for him. Only Jin-Rong, a friendly neighbour, seems to really know how to help, but will it bring his taste back?
Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman is available now on Curzon Home Cinema