By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Eat Drink Man Woman" is a movie about the four subjects in its title and how their influence on people's lives creates the basis for their life and culture.
The story begins with Taiwan's "master chef," Tao Chu (Sihung Lung), who hurriedly prepares an extravagant meal in his kitchen with all the finesse and decorative flourish of a seasoned artist. He is preparing a feast for his three daughters whom he has raised since his wife's death many years before.
Tao's daughters, Jia-Chien, Jia-Ning and Jia-Jen, are young women whose interests in their romantic worlds entice them away from his protective traditions. Tao is beginning to feel their estrangement and just as it physically causes him to lose his sense of taste, it also compels him to lose his enjoyment of life.
The story follows each character in the family in his or her pursuit of happiness. Their sole connection to family and tradition is through their communal meals together. Jia-Chen (Chien-Lien Wu) works at her successful job as an airline executive and is the first daughter to announce her desire to leave the family home. Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wong) falls in love with her best friend's boyfriend, and Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang) withdraws from everyone in secluded remorse because of a failed relationship nine years earlier.
"Eat Drink Man Woman" is billed as a comedy and while there is a lot of humor, the movie is more concerned with the emotions of its characters and the relationships they develop. The movie is fascinating in its depiction of tradition versus modern individuality and uses its Taiwan locations beautifully. Exteriors are full of amazing Chinese architecture and the restaurants, churches, schools and traditional settings contrast appropriately with more modern settings like the Wendy's Hamburgers Jia-Ning works at.
The film is written and directed by Ang Lee ("The Wedding Banquet,") a NYU graduate who utilized a primarily Chinese cast and crew and finished the editing and post-production in the U.S. He is able to capture effective performances from his cast and constructs the story with a fine sense of irony. Much of the film's enjoyment derives from the characters' surprising resolutions and the poignant events that eventually befall them.
"Eat Drink Man Woman" is a feast for the eyes, not so much out of photographic gloss but because of its consistently unique depictions of food designs and vivid locales. Its characters are appealing and their concerns are presented effectively and appreciatively. The movie is often surprising, always amusing, and succeeds in leaving an enjoyable cinematic aftertaste.
"Eat Drink Man Woman" is showing at Catalina Cinemas, 881-0616.
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