A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997
Relying on food as a symbol for love, this comedy of family relationships (from
Taiwanese director Ang Lee) tickles both mind and body. Mr Chu (Sihung Lung), a top-class
Taipei chef, widower and father to three difficult daughters, is preparing his usual
Sunday feast. The camera lingers delightfully over flying fingers as he massages pastry,
fillets fish, sculpts vegetables and creates gourmet dishes with ease. His kitchen, and
private empire, is cluttered with bubbling dishes, shelves of exotic spices and racks of
serious looking knives. Mr Chu lives to cook and cooks to live (being Head Chef in a city
hotel) yet he cannot taste the glories that flow from his skill, for his sense of taste is
blunted. However, none of the diners who sit down to this meal (which could feed forty
when there are four of them) values it, not even Mr Chu. Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mai Yang), the
eldest, is a school science teacher with a passion for Christianity. Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien
Wu) is a high-flying, workaholic airline executive, and no mean chef in her own right.
Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), the youngest, is a happy-go-lucky student who works in a fast food
The atmosphere, as they sit down to eat, is thick with tension and empty of the
usual dinnertime chatter. Food substitutes for conversation (a poor swap) and the relief
is palpable when Mr Chu has to rush to his hotel, where he wades into the crisis with the
aplomb of a master surgeon. This is his world (the one he understands) where he can test
his dishes on long-time friend Wen (Jui Wang) and command an army of chefs. Back home, the
daughters are grateful for the respite and cheerfully dispose of the left-overs - perhaps
symbolic of the fact that they are strangers to each other with no way to communicate.
Jia-Chien, the most independent, has announced that
she is moving into a new apartment
complex, which causes some envy among her siblings. The problem is that the building turns
out to be a real-estate con, a revelation which both crushes and frees Jia-Chen. A breath
of fresh air arrives with Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang) and her daughter Rachel (Yu Chen);
they're both outsiders and as close as family. Jin-Rong has her own problems though, with
the return of her squabbling mother, Mrs Liang (Ah-Leh Gua), from the States. Perhaps
she'll become a match for Mr Chu, allowing everyone their freedom?
Romance figures prominently in the daughter's lives, partly as an escape from
home, although it manifests itself in differing ways. Jia-Chen, who appears to have
everything under control but doesn't, is engaging in a purely sexual relationship with her
one-time boyfriend Raymond (Lester Chen) while flirting seriously with co-worker Li Kai
(Winston Chau), who's married. Jia-Jen lives in the shadow of a failed college
relationship, which occurred years ago, but finds herself receiving love-letters,
while catching the eye of new volleyball coach Ming Dao (Chin-Cheng Lu). Is he the
anonymous sender? Meanwhile Jia-Ning is stealing the boyfriend of one of her co-workers,
who professes not to really love him, and falling for his serious ways. The complicated
weave of these matches requires some resolution, if only for the physical and emotional
well being, of the participants. However, be prepared for the unexpected!
Living up to its title, Eat Drink Man Woman revolves around an axis
composed of those actions that are necessary to life, namely food and sex. With banquets
equal to those of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, scenes are
bursting with gastronomic sensuality, vividly contrasting with the emotional sterility of
the diners. The scale of individual repression is immense, preventing any talk of feelings
or thoughts and raising trivial incidents to great heights. The roots of this behaviour
are observed in Jia-Jen's school, which is more accurately described as a daytime prison.
The students wear colour-coded uniforms, perform group exercises to tannoy music, bow to
teachers (as thanks) yet learn nothing and march to the commands of appointed monitors. No
wonder they have difficulty in later life! The characters, inhabiting a busy screenplay,
are well portrayed although there is too much happening to give everyone significant
depth. This isn't too great a let-down though since this is more a movie of feelings and
the ebb of groups (like Taiwan itself), rather than a tale of individuals. With garnishes
of clever observations on the modern world, this is a film which leaves us with a full
stomach. A perfect opportunity for Taste-O-Vision!
Runtime: 123 minutes
Note: This film was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden
Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1995).
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