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Eat Drink Man Woman
(Yinshi Nan Nu)
Taiwan - 1994
Directed by Ang Lee

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 restaurant.

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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