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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Wedding Banquet (Hsi Yen) (1993)

"Maybe there are more important things in life than hiding in America."
- Wei-Wei (May Chin)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: June 15, 2004

Stars: Ah-Leh Gua, Sihung Lung, May Chin, Winston Chao, Mitchell Lichtenstein
Director: Ang Lee

MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:47m:59s
Release Date: June 15, 2004
UPC: 027616906915
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-B- C+

DVD Review

Director Ang Lee is best known for 2000's crossover megahit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he began his career with a trio of smaller films. Born in Taiwan, Lee completed his education in the U.S., and drew on his own cross-cultural experiences to co-write and direct 1992's Pushing Hands and 1994's Eat Drink Man Woman, both of which also examine the differences between generations. These two films bookend The Wedding Banquet, which explores the same themes, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) and Wai-Tung (Winston Gao) are a happy New York couple whose only source of stress is their lack of free time to spend together. Simon's out to his parents, but Wai-Tung isn't, which only encourages his mother in her matchmaking efforts. Push comes to shove when Wai-Tung's mom not only finds the perfect girl for him, but announces that she and his father will arrive in New York from Taiwan in two weeks. Luckily, Wai-Tung's demanding tenant Wei-Wei (May Chin) is desperately in need of a green card, and Simon and Wai-Tung hatch a plot that they think will solve all their problems. Simon assumes that Wai-Tung's sexual orientation isn't in question, Wei-Wei assumes that staying in the U.S. will solve all her problems, and everyone assumes that Wai-Tung's father doesn't understand English—but it's not good to assume.

A brief plot synopsis makes the film sound rather hackneyed, but it's anything but. Lee has created an enjoyable, rather engrossing movie, lighthearted in tone, which mostly avoids melodrama and forced emotion. It's usually described as a comedy, but the humor here is gentle and unforced, arising from situation and character. Lee wisely avoids playing up differences in culture, generation, and sexuality to create cheap jokes, observing rather than commenting on how these factors inform his characters' lives.

The film is visually interesting, and Chinese artwork and cultural artifacts are used to great effect. Lee stays with a fairly transparent, functional visual style that doesn't call attention to itself, all the better to serve his characters and the plot machinations. The performances are good, surprisingly so in the case of first-time actor Winston Chao, and Sihung Lung (who also appeared in the other films in the trilogy) is especially effective as Wai-Tung's ailing father.

While it's not Lee's best film (that honor has to go to elegiac The Ice Storm, with its masterfully controlled tone and mood), The Wedding Banquet is thoroughly enjoyable. This isn't a movie that will jerk tears from you, or make you laugh hysterically, but if you're looking for an amusing, relaxed evening, you could do worse than spend it at The Wedding Banquet.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Black levels are somewhat wanting, and there's little shadow detail in the anamorphic transfer. Color is reasonable, but skin tones are occasionally too orange. The source print is very clean, with only a few speckles, and grain is mostly absent.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English/Mandarinno

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel Dolby audio is actually mono, so don't expect any activity from the surrounds or the subwoofer. It's reasonably full-range, with no harshness or stridency.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The new full-frame documentary A Forbidden Passion is surprisingly good, and in no way resembles the fluff featurettes found on many DVD releases. Interviews with Lee and co-writer/co-producer James Schamus are interspersed with letterboxed clips from the film, which look as good or better than the feature itself. Lee discusses his early determination to make films and the genesis of The Wedding Banquet. Schamus talks about the creation of the Good Machine production company and his work with Lee. Both contribute comments about the reception of Lee's films in Asia and their motivations for filmmaking.

The only other extra is the theatrical release trailer, which is anamorphic and looks quite good, except that the color has become rather brownish. Subtitles can't be switched on the fly, but instead require a return to the menu screens. Thankfully, when 'None' is selected from the subtitle menu, English subtitles are still displayed during the extensive Mandarin-language sequences.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Director Ang "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Lee's second film is an enjoyable, rather charming examination of what happens when generational, cultural, and sexual lines are crossed. The transfer is good, and the included documentary is quite informative.


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