Before he became the stalwart director behind Brokeback Mountain, the great Ang Lee invited the world to The Wedding Banquet back in 1993. Described at the time as “La Cage aux Folles, Asian-American style,” this wholesome gay comedy crossed over to mainstream audiences – not only in America, but all over the world.
Witty and perceptive, this Taiwanese-financed comedy follows the family drama of Wai Tung (Winston Chao). A transplanted Taiwanese gay man, now a New York City real estate entrepreneur, Wai lives in “guppie” bliss with his all-American boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) in the West Village. Exasperated at his traditional parents’ persistent inquiries into his marital prospects, he announces a marriage-of-convenience with a wacky artist from Shanghai who is desperate for a green card. His ruse to please and deceive them backfires, however, when they announce that they are coming to New York to meet the bride!
Frantically, the two lovers remove all vestiges of their relationship from the apartment, posing as “landlord and tenant” and bringing in the faux fiancee. The plan seems to be working fine until the parents spearhead an elaborate wedding banquet that involves a night of gaudy excesses and some deeply unwanted surprises.
The delightful characters are the real attraction in this sexual and cultural comedy that might easily have turned into another A Different Story or Three of Hearts (two notable sexuality-focused comedies of that early ’90s time period that focused on gay and/or lesbian characters discovering the joys of heterosexuality through romantic comedy plot conventions – see 1997’s Chasing Amy, though not without its shaggy charms, as another offender).
Considered a maverick filmmaker today by all and sundry, Ang Lee – at the time a 30-something Taiwanese-American NYU film school graduate making a name for himself on the festival circuit – won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival for his crowd-pleasing independent breakout feature.
Though long out-of-print, The Wedding Banquet is coming to DVD and Blu-ray in a special edition THIS MONTH thanks to Olive Films. A company that specializes in bringing notable older films back out into the home entertainment market, Olive Films has been shining a spotlight on many lost gay titles. They’re also behind the re-releases of The Sum of Us, Prick Up Your Ears, Flawless, Come Back to the Five & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Bound (which holds up so well) and the regrettably homophobic 1982 Ryan O’Neal/John Hurt “comedy” Partners (that one might have been better off staying buried).