Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
February 18, 2018 5:57 PM - Subscribe

A senior chef lives with his three grown daughters; the middle one finds her future plans affected by unexpected events and the life changes of the other household members.

NYTimes: Less audacious in subject matter than "The Wedding Banquet" (in which a gay man marries a woman to deceive his parents), "Eat Drink Man Woman" is more ambitious in other ways. It unfolds on a broader canvas, with each character's separate story given room to play out, and each used somehow to illustrate the film's title. "Food and sex," one character says succinctly, amplifying that four-ideogram phrase. "Basic human desires. Can't avoid them."

The Dissolve: In Eat Drink Man Woman, the real conflict isn’t between the daughters and their father, but between tradition and modernity. Lee shows a Taipei that in some ways is indistinguishable from any major American city, where the toy store is stocked with Disney products, the young people eat at Wendy’s, and the streets are teeming with busy folks. The question the movie asks—and its title answers—is what all these people want.

The big twist is that as much as the three women talk about how they yearn to be free of their taciturn, conservative dad, all of them are in some way bound to the past. They remember when Mr. Chu was sweeter and funnier, and reminisce about watching him in the kitchen, adding personal flair to every sprinkle of salt and splash of hot oil. The characters in Eat Drink Man Woman are all lost in their own heads, unable to let each other finish a thought, because they’ve spent so much time together that they’re (mistakenly) sure of where every conversation is headed. What brings them together over and over is food, piled onto a dinner table by a man who expresses his affection through his cuisine. “My memory’s in my nose,” Jia-Chien says at one point, as she almost admits what she and her sisters can’t say—that they want to be independent, but they also want dad’s dumplings to taste exactly they way they did when they were kids.

Bitch Flicks: In Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), director and co-writer Ang Lee expertly tells the story of changing family dynamics in Taipei, Taiwan during a time of rapid modernization, employing a universal medium — food. Through Chef Chu who has lost his sense of taste and his three adult daughters, this film addresses many themes, chief among them gender roles, family, and globalization, which each progress forward in divergent, but equally valid and flexible ways.
Starting from its dichotomous title, gender and authority come to the fore in this film, issues that also greatly shape the roles of women in the public world of food where men in general are more likely to hold positions of power. Such is the case for Chef Chu. While he no longer works full time at The Grand Hotel, he acts with assured confidence when he is called in one evening to help the all male staff to rectify a dish that is being served at an important dinner.

The traditional, powerful, masculine role of “The Chef” is complicated in the film, however, as Chef Chu’s authority is not well recognized by his daughters. Furthermore, as he parents alone, Chef Chu serves as both mother and father and performs many conventionally feminine duties, such as feeding his daughters, folding their laundry—even waking them up in the morning. Throughout the film, Chef Chu prepares elaborate family dinners, which his daughters attend, but half-heartedly and with a degree of frustration, irritability, and irreverence.

A Sharper Focus: I think all this globalization is simply a fact of modern life like my eating in a Japanese or Thai restaurant. But to Chu’s keen sense of Chinese tradition, it is a dislocation and distortion. It creates a lot of exotic ingredients that he must somehow put together to make his life and his daughters’ satisfying, like a good meal. He tries to cling to the old by cooking a magnificent, traditional feast each Sunday which the three daughters must attend. They, however, call it the “torture chamber” because he and they use the dinner to make troubling announcements about their lives. It may also be a torture chamber because Chu has lost his sense of taste, and the food may simply not taste good. Indeed, Ja-Chien says as much. Food is the way Chu relates to his daughters, and it’s not working.


Chef Susur Lee on Eat Drink Man Woman

Eat Drink Man Woman vs. Sense and Sensibility: A Feminist Observation

Roger's Favorites: Ang Lee
posted by MoonOrb (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Is it my browser, but the Susur link just goes to an ad for a talk featuring him. There is no transcript nor video of said conversation that I could find.
posted by jadepearl at 11:50 PM on February 18, 2018

I went to see this with a friend in a matinee screening. Almost as soon as the lights came up, my friend turned to me and said "I don't know about you, but after watching all those cooking scenes, I'm starving."

We were in Soho, so we walked a little further south and gorged on dim sum.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is one of my favorite movies. Watching it on New Year's Eve instead of whoever's doing Rockin' New Year's Eve these days is kind of a family tradition in my house.

(Note that the themes are apparently universal. The story was picked up as if by a giant cargo crane and dropped into suburban Los Angeles without missing a beat.)
posted by Naberius at 10:44 AM on February 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Like Naberius, I felt the same when I saw Tortilla Soup. It looked like a remake that was absolutely in line with the original, without missing a beat. Plus I think Raquel Welch as the older woman was PERFECT. It may be just me, but I think if I was Hector Olizondo; I would have reciprocated!

Some movies don't translate well. I remember remakes of Mostly Martha (No Reservations) or Shall We Dance (Richard Gere version) were not as good.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2018

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