At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm
Note: Film Space has postponed their previously scheduled September showings of the “Colors” trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski to December, in order not to conflict with the showings of these same three films by the Alliance Française in September. Film Space is now showing “A Month of Asian Films” throughout September. October will offer “A Month of Alcoholism.”
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school, on the 2nd floor. Or maybe the roof. A small but nice place to view movies. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.
At Film Space on September 13, 7 pm: Eat Drink Man Woman / Yin shi nan nu (1994) by Ang Lee – Taiwan/US Comedy/ Romance/ Drama – 123 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 75 out of 100.
Review by James Berardinelli:
"Everything is much different in Eat Drink Man Woman than the other films I've made. It has a bigger cast and a lot more complex story line... I started thinking about families and how they communicate. Sometimes the things children need to hear most are often the things that parents find hardest to say, and vice versa. When that happens, we resort to ritual. For the Chu family, the ritual is the Sunday dinner... At each dinner the family comes together and then something happens that pushes them farther apart."
- Ang Lee, writer/director of Eat Drink Man Woman
Who said foreign films can't be fun? Ang Lee's follow-up to his internationally successful The Wedding Banquet is a delicious examination of the relationship between aging Chinese master chef Tao Chu (Sihung Lung) and his three daughters. The oldest, Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei-Yang), is an unmarried school teacher in her late twenties. The middle daughter, Jia-Chen (Chien-Lien Wu), is a thriving corporate airline executive whose career comes before all else. The youngest, Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), is a twenty year old romantic who works at a Wendy's fast food joint.
Eat Drink Man Woman is a more accomplished motion picture than its predecessor - and The Wedding Banquet was good enough in its own right. The comedy is spontaneous and relaxed, the drama is finely-tuned, and the plot is seasoned with unexpected little twists. The script delights in occasional forays just beyond the typical bounds of a screenplay.
Though filmed entirely in Taiwan (Lee's first film not to examine cross-cultural issues), the themes of Eat Drink Man Woman are universal. The problems faced by the Chu family happen all around the world, and the difficulty of communicating across the generation gap is something almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. Love, especially that of Chu for his daughters, often goes unspoken, for to express emotion is to admit vulnerability.
With an ease that marks the true craftsman, Ang Lee develops a rapport between his characters and the audience. These people have a richness, texture, and depth that no stereotype could hope to match, and which a film like Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club was grasping for. The perfectly-proportioned measures of comedy and drama emerge through character interaction, not as a result of contrived situations and silly one-liners.
For his cast, Lee has chosen a mixture of actors he has and has not previously worked with. The role of Chu was written with veteran performer Sihung Lung in mind. The actor appeared in a similar patriarchal capacity in the director's Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet. Also returning from The Wedding Banquet are Winston Chao (the reluctant bridegroom then and a co-worker of Jia-Chen's now) and Ah-Leh Gua (the mother then and the obnoxious Mrs. Liang now).
Food is as much a backdrop as a recurring symbol. Chu's failing taste buds parallel his loss for the zest for life. Jia-Chen's love of cooking harkens back to a frustrated childhood desire, and Jia-Ning's work at a Wendy's makes a statement about the infusion of Western culture into modern-day China. Nevertheless, as with The Age of Innocence, which displayed countless dishes guaranteed to whet the appetite, Eat Drink Man Woman could perhaps be frustrating to any who view it on an empty stomach.
About the director: Ang Lee
A New York-based, Taiwan-born independent producer, director, and screenwriter, Ang Lee gained international attention with his second feature, "The Wedding Banquet" (1993). Described by one of its producers as "a cross-cultural, gay 'Green Card', comedy of errors," this gentle, observant comedy strove to recreate the plot structure of an old Hollywood screwball comedy while confronting issues of Taiwanese identity. "The Wedding Banquet" became a huge international success: Variety deemed it the most profitable film of 1993 as it yielded a 4,000 percent return on investment. Lee helped put Taiwanese cinema on the international map, especially as "The Wedding Banquet" became the first movie from that country to earn an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film.
After Lee's paternal grandparents were executed for being landowners during the Communist revolution in mainland China, his father, a scholar and school principal, fled to Taiwan. In 1973, Lee surprised his family by heading to Taipei to study acting. Five years later, he moved to the USA to pursue further studies. Following his graduation from the University of Illinois, he headed east to NYU's film school, where he began his moviemaking career. Lee worked in production capacities on student like Spike Lee's "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barber Shop: We Cut Heads" (1982, as assistant to cinematographer Ernest Dickerson). His own shorts, "Dim Lake" (1983) and "Fine Line" (1984) earned prizes and led to representation by the esteemed William Morris Agency. Yet Lee was caught in what can only be termed as "development hell.” For five years, he struggled to get various projects off the ground, all the while playing househusband to his two sons while his wife, microbiologist Janice Lin, was the breadwinner. While he became an accomplished cook of rich Chinese cuisine, his mate researched how such foods contributed to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
In 1990, Lee saw a turning point in his career. He entered two scripts into a national competition in Taiwan and amazingly placed first and second with "Pushing Hands" and "The Wedding Banquet.” Both films, along with "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994), find their central metaphor in food. Taken together, these movies which feature actor Sihung Lung as a patriarch, form what Lee has called his "Father Knows Best" trilogy. 1991's "Pushing Hands" examined the clash of cultures when the father comes to live with his son in America and takes a shine to a Chinese cooking instructor. "The Wedding Banquet" was about a marriage of convenience between a gay man and a Chinese immigrant that was arranged in part to please the man's elderly parents. "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994), which also picked up an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film, told the story of a father—a renowned Taiwanese cook—and his three daughters as they strive to concoct a recipe for harmonious living. Boasting a more complex screenplay and polished performances, "Eat Drink Man Woman" opened to laudatory reviews and robust box office.
A seemingly unlikely choice to film a classic British novel, Lee was hired to direct "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), his first English-language movie. Adapted from Jane Austen's classic novel and starring Emma Thompson, it earned rave reviews, many of which singled out Lee's nuanced approach to this comedy of manners. In many ways. the film was similar to his earlier work, in that the motion pictures all studies of mores unique to a time and place, the effect of a patriarch on his family and miscommunication. Although the film received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, Lee surprisingly did not make the final cut in the Best Director category.
"The Ice Storm" (1997) revolved around a father who watches the collapse of a patriarchal society. Adapted from Rick Moody's novel, the film focused on the societal upheavals in the 1970s (from Nixonian politics to wife-swapping to the burgeoning women's movement), with particular attention to how the interpersonal codes were becoming inverted. With meticulous detail to period, "The Ice Storm" looked at events from the perspectives of both the adults and the teenagers. Featuring a superb ensemble, this mood piece played as a modern Greek tragedy. Lee next undertook perhaps his most ambitious film yet, "Ride With the Devil" (1999), an action-packed post-Civil War-era epic about renegade Confederate soldiers set on the Missouri-Kansas borders. Although based on a Daniel Woodrell's novel "Woe to Love On", the story had its roots in history. To realize the project, the director assembled a cast drawn from a who's who of rising stars, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jewel, Skeet Ulrich, and James Caviezel, but its execution provoked a mostly dispassionate response from audiences.
In 2000, Ang Lee saw the realization of a dream project. He had long harbored the desire to make a film similar to those on which he had been raised while growing up in Taiwan. Returning to his roots, he made his first Chinese-language project in years, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which married two genres—historical romance and martial arts -- into an exciting blend. Teaming Hong Kong stars Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh as mature lovers, utilizing action star Cheng Pei-Pei as a villain, and teaming newcomers Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen as a younger couple, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" had elements to appeal to a mass audience—action for the guys, romance for the gals. Already a hit in Asia when it was released in the USA in late 2000, the movie earned mostly raves and earned a spot on many a critic's Ten Best list, as well as ten Academy Award nominations and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Lee's next major film was directing the highly anticipated comic adaptation "The Hulk" (2003) which starred Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly. The high-profile film was met with mixed but generally appreciative responses, with many quarters praising the dark psychological underpinnings of the story while others decried the CGI-created Hulk as too unrealistic and cartoony-looking.
If "The Hulk" was largely viewed as a disappointment, Lee certainly redeemed himself thoroughly with his next film, the haunting, sensitive drama "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), an adaptation and expansion of E. Annie Proulx's revered story (screenplay by Western master Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) which cast Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, respectively, a pair of rugged ranch hands who, while driving sheep through a mountain range in the 1960s, engage in a homosexual affair and struggle through a painful, heart-wrenching love affair that spans several decades—a relationship complicated by Ennis' need to be closeted and their mutual heterosexual relationships with women. Lee won several awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Director – Motion Picture and the top honors at the Directors Guild Awards. As predicted, Lee won an Academy Award for a Best Director, but his film’s anticipated Best Picture Oscar surprisingly went to “Crash” instead.
After Brokeback Mountain, Lee returned to a Chinese topic. His next film was Lust, Caution, which was adapted from a short novel by the Chinese author Eileen Chang. The story was written in 1950, and was loosely based on an actual event that took place in 1939-1940 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, during World War II. Similar to Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee adapted and expanded a short, simple story into a featured film in a way that allows individual figures to develop sophisticated layers of reserved emotions, without being sidetracked by complicated plots or overstuffed materials.
Lust, Caution is being distributed by Focus Features and premiered at international film festivals in the summer and early fall of 2007. In the US, the movie received a NC-17 rating (no one 17 and under admitted) from the MPAA mainly due to several strongly explicit sex scenes. This was a challenge to the film's distribution because many theater chains in the United States refuse to show NC-17 films. The director and film studio have decided not to appeal the decision. In order to be permitted to show Lust, Caution in mainland China, however, Lee removed 9 minutes from the film to make the content suitable for minor audiences, according to government restrictions.
Lust, Caution won the Golden Lion from 2007 Biennale Venice Film Festival, making Lee awarded the highest prize for the second time in three years. The critics in the US, however, were not all positive. When Lust, Caution was played in Lee's native Taiwan in its original full-length edition, it was very well received. Staying in Taiwan to promote the film and to participate in a traditional Chinese holiday, Lee got emotional when he found that his work was widely applauded by fellow Chinese. Lee admitted that he had low expectations for this film from the US audience since "its pace, its film language — it's all very Chinese."
At Film Space on September 20, 7 pm: Be With Me (2005) by Eric Khoo – Singapore Drama/ Romance – 93 mins. In Cantonese, English, Hokkien, and Mandarin with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 67/ 69 out of 100.
Be With Me consists of three stories of love vs. solitude: 1) An aging, lonesome shopkeeper doesn't believe in life any more since his wife died. But he is saved from desperation by reading an autobiographical book and meeting its author, a deaf and dumb lady of his own age. 2) Fatty, a security guard in his fifties, lives for two things: good food and love for a pretty executive living in his block of flats. But, if it is easy to satisfy his first need, winning the heart of the distant belle is a horse of another color. 3) Two teenage schoolgirls get to know each other on the Internet. Soon they fall in love.
NYTimes: Although four stories, three fictional and one real, are folded together in Eric Khoo’s elliptical film Be With Me, the tale that gives this delicate, melancholic movie its backbone is the true one of its courageous central character, Theresa Chan. A deaf and blind Singaporean woman in her early 60’s who plays herself in the movie, Ms. Chan is an indomitable life force and charismatic screen presence. Even after she concludes her account of transcending the “silent, dark prison” of her disabilities with the help of gifted teachers, you are left wondering how she did it.