Love is one of the most popular themes that can be found in different kinds of art. Throughout the history of humanity, people have been interested in how people express their passion, interact with each other, and eliminate barriers that prevent them from being together. However, the difference in values and worldviews preconditions the dominance of a particular view on love, romance, and its acceptability between certain groups of people. For instance, for an extended period, homosexual relations had been viewed as wrong and inappropriate. For this reason, society had a negative attitude to gay couples, which resulted in the emergence of the stereotypical attitude to gay couples and the tabooed nature of the theme. Today, with the rise of humanistic values and tolerance, there are multiple attempts to change people’s attitude to the question by using various kinds of art. The movie The Wedding Banquet by Ang Lee belongs to this cohort as it revolves around the homosexual relations between two protagonists.
The romance between Wai-Tung Gao and Simon is the centre of the whole plot. Wai-Tung is in the perfect age for marriage, which means that his traditionally-minded parents want their son to create a family and have a child to continue the family line and become a part of the community (Lee, 1993). They are too insistent and are ready to solve the problem by themselves. That is why Wai-Tung finds a good option presupposing a fake marriage with Wei-Wei, a poor artist from China who needs a green card. The protagonists prepare for the wedding, rearranging their house with traditional Chinese decorations and waiting for the parents’ arrival. However, the plan does not work well because drunk Wei-Wei and Wai-Tung have sex, and the girl becomes pregnant (Lee, 1993). To avoid problems with his partner, Wei-Wei wants to confess, however, it seems that his parents already know about his homosexuality.
Using the given story and supporting it irony and comedy, the author manages to introduce some vital themes that serve as the background for the development of romantic relations between the protagonists and also help to show Ang Lee’s attitude to the problem. There is the idea of the clash of cultures, generations, views, and representations peculiar to different groups of people. However, the concept of homosexual relations and their juxtaposition to traditional ones and people’s attitudes to them are central to the whole story. Lee not only describes the happy experience of two people in love, but there is also an attempt to outline all problems that they have to overcome to become free, and it is one of the fundamental thoughts of the author. Wei-Wei and Simon’s way to happiness is not only about struggling with external factors, by it includes their own recognition, acceptance, and readiness to resist stereotypical representations by demonstrating their feelings to other people.
Analysing the author’s position, it should be stated that Lee treats romance between two protagonists as a natural, positive, and inspiring phenomenon regardless of culture, generation, or social beliefs. It can be viewed in various aspects of the movie. Wai-Tung is the representative of the Eastern culture with strong orthodox beliefs and values, which means that gay relations can be challenging or even unacceptable for people from this group. However, Ang Lee (1993) introduces the themes of globalisation when speaking about the love between these two men. From the perspective of multiculturalism, he outlines the necessity to bridge the gap between cultures and generations, represented by Wei-Wei, his lover from one side, and the traditionally-minded family from another (Yu, 2019). The film is created for a diverse audience, and Lee emphasises the fact that love is a multi-layered concept that is not limited to old and stereotyped frames that were established centuries ago.
The romance between the protagonists is also treated in terms of multiracialism. Lee introduces some oppositions, such as Taiwanese-Americans vs Chinese Americans, and Asian American families (Yu, 2019). The given conflict becomes critical for the understanding of the movie and the central message. Viewers acquire an opportunity to evaluate relations from the perspective of immigrants, represented by Wei-Wei, gay couples of the early 90s, and the old school parents who seem not ready to accept the idea that their child can belong to a new cohort of people who see no limits to their love (Yu, 2019). At the same time, Wai-Tung demonstrates that people can overcome different barriers when moving forward to achieve their goals. He is integrated into the U.S. society, acts as a successful businessman, and has perfect English (Yu, 2019). It means that he is not an immigrant, but a representative of the American community, and his mentality combines both elements of Chinese and Western cultures. Wai-Tung’s success is one of the methods used by the author to emphasise the importance of protagonists’ feelings and the positive nature of their romance.
The relations between Wai-Tung and Simon are also linked to the theme of acceptance which plays a critically important role in the movie. Ang Lee (1993) offers viewers an opportunity to discover distinct and different cultures: gay couples with their unique visions and Asian Americans. The coexistence between these couples is fundamental for the movie and the disclosure of the basics of romance between the protagonists. Ang Lee wants to introduce the idea that regardless of the peculiarities of mentalities, worldviews, and representations, people can live in accordance with their own beliefs and protect them, remaining the vital part of other communities with orthodox values (Yu, 2019). The movie also has two languages, English and Mandarin, which emphasise the divergence between people from different parts of the world. They have diverse traditions, which can be seen in the scenes with dinner, as Wai-Tung’s father sits at the end of the table as the head of the family when others sit at his side (Lee, 1993). The wedding was also organised following the Chinese tradition. However, these differences serve as the background for the story of love, which means that Lee emphasises its power to cross borders.
Finally, Ang Lee treats the romance by making it a part of the clash between Eastern and Western traditions. The audience can see how the main character adapts to a culture that is new for him and what details of the U.S. society seem important to immigrants who want to integrate. At the end of the movie, Wai-Tung concludes that his relations with close people hold the top priority and he should live with his gay partner and wife paying little attention to other factors that might deteriorate this experience. However, which is more important, Mr. Gao and his wife also accept the gay relations of their son and Wei-Wei as a fake wife who is going to give birth to their grandchild. Ending the movie in this way, Ang Lee (1993) emphasises the fact that stereotypical visions and representations can be disregarded when people move forward together and are ready to struggle. The differences in cultures and mentalities become less important than the desire of people to be close to each other.
In such a way, Ang Lee views romance and relations as critical aspects of people’s lives with the power to introduce radical changes. A similar idea can be seen in Chungking Express by Wong Kar-wai. The movie shows various perspectives on the loss of a partner or beloved one. The life of the main characters becomes purposeless and joyless after the breakup and people feel miserable (Kar-wai, 1994). However, contrary to The Wedding Banquet, Chungking Express revolves mainly around heterosexual relations and romance between men and women. Accepting the critical importance of this element in the life of people, the author shows how protagonists are obsessed with their former partners, routines, and traditional actions (Kar-wai, 1994). They reject any change as it means the end of a period in their lives, and, at the same time, the end of all hope for reuniting with their love (Naftule, 2018). In such a way, the fear of change is paralysing, it is not capable of bringing positive change, and it gradually destroys the main characters, their future, and the chance for love.
These two representations of romantic feelings are different, but there is also an aspect that makes them closer to each other. Both movies show that life can become completely useless without love, and people might have depressive feelings and thoughts if their expectations and hopes fail. In Chungking Express, the policemen, waitresses, and other heroes cannot enjoy the benefits of life because they feel strong negative emotions preconditioned by the breakup (Kar-wai, 1994). From another hand, in The Wedding Banquet, the protagonists also come close to the stage of critical deterioration in relations and experience suffering because of it. However, they manage to avoid a breakup and find a solution to live happily.
Moreover, Chungking Express introduces another theme that is applicable to romance. The movie offers the idea that change is one of the greatest dangers to relationships between couples. Along with positive shifts it can bring, there is also a high risk of becoming dissatisfied with a new situation and the need to resolve new problems. In the second movie, the main characters failed to manage the change; moreover, they are now stuck because of the fear to alter their current lives as it will mean the complete end of the state that was important to them. In such a way, Chungking Express presents romance from the perspective of a painful transition from being in relations to becoming single and alone (Kar-wai, 1994). The process is complex and demands much effort to guarantee that a person will be able to recover. It differentiates the movie from The Wedding Banquet where the motif of change is also vital, but it is presented from another angle. Wai-Tung realises the need for change and faces the necessity to select among several options for the further development of his relations with Simon. However, contrary to heroes of another movie, he dares to move forward and enter the new stage of his relations with people surrounding him, which preconditions the favourable resolution of the conflict.
Finally, although the two movies revolve around two different types of love, they show that it can be good or painful for homosexual and heterosexual couples. The love between Simon and Wai-Tung presupposes some conflicts; however, they are resolved, and the partners become happy (Lee, 1993). At the same time, romantic relations between people in Chungking Express precondition suffering and cogitations about the nature of romantic feelings, their importance, and place in the lives of people. In such a way, Lee’s treatment of romance presupposes that same-sex relationships are similar to traditional ones, and they can also be happy or unhappy. The result depends on people’s behaviour in relations and their readiness to change and to support this bond to remain satisfied.
Altogether, the movie The Wedding Banquet depicts the gay couple in the stage of the crisis. Ang Lee provides viewers with images of partners who face the need to explain their relations to family and people surrounding them, which presupposes the need to change. Wai-Tung and Simon manage to overcome all difficulties and find a way to be happy. Using elements of comedy, irony, and the clash of cultures as the background for the development of relations, Lee manages to treat the romance in a way that helps viewers to understand that homosexual relations can make people happy and should not be viewed by using stereotypical judgments.
Kar-wai, W. (Director). (1994). Chungking express [Motion Picture]. Hong Kong: Jet Tone Production.
Lee, A. (Director). (1993). The wedding banquet [Motion Picture]. Taiwan, United States: Good Machine.
Naftule, A. (2018). California dreams and expiration dates: “Chungking Express.”
Yu, J. (2019). Seeking identities across the worlds: A critical analysis of Ang Lee’s film The Wedding Banquet. Asian Culture and History, 11(2), 91.