The Wedding Banquet: Internal struggles between Asian / American

Asian American director, Ang Lee produced his second film The Wedding Banquet in 1993. The movie, set in New York, tells of an Asian American real estate man, Wai Tung, the series of white lies he tells his parents who are back in Taiwan, and the shenanigans that follow when they decide to visit. Throughout the film, Wai Tung is pitted against both his Asian roots and his American lifestyle while trying to maintain a balance through being “Asian American”.

The film begins as Wai Tung listens to his mother’s cassette while working out at a gym. Immediately, two different stereotypes are at play. The typical effeminate Asian man is seemingly out of place in the gym yet the traditional Eastern standards of a man needing to marry a woman to continue the lineage is reinforced through his mother’s voice as she asks Wai Tung when he plans to get married. This bouncing back and forth between cultures is further complicated when viewers learn that Wai Tung is gay and lives with his white boyfriend, Simon.

Next, we meet Wei Wei, one of Wai Tung’s tenants. When Wai Tung’s parents come to visit, Simon sees Wei Wei as an opportunity for Wai Tung to get his parents off his back about finding a girlfriend as well as a way for Wei Wei to get a green card and live a better life. The three of them fabricate a big lie about Wai Tung and Wei Wei getting married and create an elaborate ruse to pretend that they have been living together under the same roof. Immediately these bring up traditional Asian American struggles of filial piety (getting married, providing a grandson, making the parents happy and satisfied), as well as intersections with citizenship (giving Wei Wei a green card is a means for her to succeed) and sexuality (Wai Tung and Simon hiding who they are, the heteronormativity of a nuclear family).

When the parents get to New York, Wai Tung’s “Asian American-ness” is once again under the spotlight during the wedding ceremony. There is a big contrast of cultures during this long scene as Wai Tung, the traditional filially pious son, must appease his parents by having a wedding, but his internal culture of American casualness and homosexuality cause him to want it as quick and easy as possible. Yet his piety wins out when it is apparent his parents are unsatisfied and demand the elaborate “Chinese, traditional” marriage ceremony.

Even during the ceremony, there are signs of Asian versus American. As a show for the wedding attendees, Wai Tung passionately kisses Wei Wei and the camera pans to two white Americans (at 44:49). One of them remarks “God, and I thought the Chinese were meek, quiet, math whizzes” and an Asian man behind them chimes in, “You’re witnessing the results of 50,000 years of sexual repression.” This scene is pretty obvious in discussion because of the blatant stereotype of Asians as “meek, quiet, math whizzes” from a white perspective, but also in the perpetuating the stereotype by the Asian man who reinforces their ideas that Asians are asexual or effeminate. Yet in this scene Wai Tung is portrayed as a masculine figure who kisses his bride. He has become a “man” when he is able to break out of his asexual self and take control of women. The inclusion of the two white Americans to comment on this almost makes this act seem more “American” than “Asian”.

However almost immediately is this scene contrasted with Wai Tung and Wei Wei who are naked in bed together after being corned by the party-goers who refused to leave their hotel room until they were unclothed under the sheets together. Wai Tung and Wei Wei are both drunk and Wei Wei begins to cuddle Wai Tung. Wai Tung resists her physical advances but she aggressively states her intention to “liberate” him. Although I am unsure of whether it is Wai Tung’s Asian-ness or homosexuality that is being emasculated here, in context, the Asian aspect of Wai Tung’s inability to take control of the sexual activity shows his asexuality. This also pulls up the hypersexualized Asian woman stereotype in Wei Wei’s forwardness about taking Wai Tung’s heterosexual virginity. This scene, in comparison to the previous one, puts Wai Tung’s “Asian-ness” back into the spotlight.

Wai Tung struggles with this back and forth of Asian and American all throughout the rest of the movie. In this particularly poignant scene (the title of the video is misnamed), Wai Tung addresses his mom in the hospital after his father suffers a minor stroke. He confesses his love for Simon and his mother, right away, asks if Simon was the one to lead Wai Tung astray. Wai Tung’s mother, the traditional Taiwanese woman, lashes out against the wild American stereotype that has corrupted her son. Wai Tung fights back providing her reassurance that the love that he and Simon share are no different from the love in traditional nuclear family. He also fights back against the Asian by saying “if it weren’t for Pa’s need for a grandchild, I’d be happy the way it was”. Wai Tung blames his Asian family for cursing him with internal battles for cultural dominance. Wai Tung wants to be gay and happy but to do that, he must cast away his Asian heritage, which taught him to be pious to his family. His mother, in response, warns him not to tell his father. As a way to save face, Wai Tung and his mother plot to keep the pretense that all is well.

In his struggle with the Asian and the American, Wai Tung is representative of most of the immigrant experience. Our parents are away, with not much input on what goes on in our daily lives yet their teachings and traditions live within ourselves. Ultimately, it is up to us to figure out what we want to deem “right” and what might be considered “wrong” in a new world.

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