29 June 2008

Eat Drink Man Woman review

Eat Drink Man Woman has become one of my favorite movies. Or shall I say Drink Eat Man Woman since that is the literal translation of the Chinese title <<飲食男女>>?

The movie is about a father, Mr. Chu, and his three daughters living in Taiwan. The father (as typical in many Chinese families) is not very good at verbal communication. He only knows how to show his love through cooking. Even though his three daughters are adults, they still live with him and they are required to be home for a special Sunday dinner every week. As time goes on, one daughter after another leaves her father's house and becomes independent. That's all I can say without giving anything away.

I really enjoyed watching a film that depicted modern Chinese society. I was frequently struck with the feeling of seeing my own family on camera. Chinese people tend towards stoicism and this aspect was emphasized in the family interactions. I can relate to the way that the Chu family struggles to communicate. Asian families don't hug or express verbal affection. Just doesn't happen much. They express their love through actions like Mr. Chu's cooking or the second daughter's criticism.

Eat Drink Man Woman has often been called a food lover's film because there are extended scenes of the father cooking extravagant meals. He uses all the freshest ingredients including fish out of the tank and chickens from the coop. It's almost as if the passion is focused on the food in the first half of the film, rather than on the people, who seem repressed. In the second half, this dynamic flips around and we see people's emotions boil over. Another great foodie film is the German movie Mostly Martha. The food aside, it's also an outstanding movie overall.

Eat Drink Man Woman is a funny movie and even more so to me, because I have the personal experience of growing up in a Chinese family. In one scene, Mr. Chu worries about his friend's elementary school aged daughter. He doesn't think the girl has a proper lunch, so he cooks a hot lunch for her and swaps this lunch with the lunch prepared by the girl's mother. Of course, the girl's mother is a terrible cook, and Mr. Chu ends up having to eat it. I can see my own father doing the exact same thing. The final kicker is that the girl starts "taking orders" from her classmates and sells her lunch to them for extra cash. Another scene I really like is when Mr. Chu goes to the bedrooms of each of his daughters and wakes them up in the morning. In particular, he tells the second daughter not to sleep at her desk because it's bad for her posture. My dad did the same to me when I was growing up. Although this was not supposed to be funny, I liked how the sisters talked while washing the dishes by hand. You know it's a Chinese family, when there are only human dishwashers. There are many other humorous scenes, but these three are the ones that were most personally relevant to me.

[Spoilers below]

The main source of tension between the three daughters is who gets to leave home and who has to stay behind and take care of the father. I expected that the eldest daughter (the spinster, religious schoolteacher) would be the one who stays at home and takes care of the father. In fact, it's the rebellious, independent-minded second daughter who ends up staying at home. She realizes how much she has in common with her father (she loves to cook) and how much she loves him. The ending scene where she cooks dinner for her father is especially touching.

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