EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN
(YIN SHI NAN NU)

Released: 1994
Directed By: Ang Lee
Chinese with English subtitles
Cast:
Sihung Lung: Tao Chu
Yu-Wen Wang: Jia-Ning
Chien-lien Wu: Jia-Chien
Kuei-Mei Yang: Jia-Jen

      


 


Review by Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle, August 19, 1994

Food and sex—the basic things necessary to sustain life. When you think about it, most stories can be boiled down to these essential elements. From its title on down, Eat Drink Man Woman makes no bones about its subject matter. Yet for topics so apparently upfront and basic, the amount of texture, humor, and subtlety this movie brings to the old biological imperatives is quite amazing. For this is a movie about communication: how we use food to communicate, how food brings us together and pulls us apart, how food is totemic and inter-generational, how it changes in tune with the culture.

Eat Drink Man Woman is director Ang Lee’s follow-up film to his recently successful comedy The Wedding Banquet, about a New York gay male couple who invent a sham heterosexual marriage to fool one’s visiting parents from Taiwan. Lee’s new movie continues his fascination with food and focuses on the Chu family of Taipei. Patriarch Tao Chu (Sihung Lung) is a master chef. This longtime widower is now retired and lives with his three daughters in their family home. The oldest is a devout Catholic chemistry teacher at war with her resignation to her unmarried life. One has devoted herself to her corporate career though she does not forgo an active sexual life, yet she longs to move from her father’s house. The youngest works at a Wendy’s fast food outlet, itself a rebellion against her father’s reach.

In addition to having lost his sense of taste, Tao Chu has also begun to lose touch with his daughters and the only hold he still has over them is his requirement that they all attend the elaborate dinners he prepares every Sunday. (Food preparation is a joy to behold: macrophotographic shots of food and full-length images of preparers’ body language makes Eat Drink Man Woman certain to become another one of the “foodies” favorites with recreated dinners and recipe books following the movie.) The movie progresses by cross-cutting constantly between the lives and loves of all the central players. Just as you begin to think that all this information is very interesting yet fear that it is never going to merge into something meaningful, you begin to notice that nothing is working out the way you might have expected. And that’s the point, I guess. Life (and cooking) may not always proceed as planned. The results often yield unknown surprises and treats. With great subtlety and knowing humor, Eat Drink Man Woman emerges as one of those unforeseen treats.