Is it wrong for me to say that in the 90s there was a bit of a casual nature to films that we’ve lost now? I do remember films like Philadelphia and Schindler’s List. They didn’t allow for the word “casual” to be entered into the discussion at all. However, those (I feel) are the exceptions possibly.
Here Ang Lee tells the story of a man, Wai-Tung (Winston Chao), who is constantly pestered by his parents from all the way in the homeland to find a woman and get married. The only problem with that is that he’s gay. One evening however, as he’s filling out another dating form (and making it as ridiculous as possible) his lover, Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein), suggests that he create a fake marriage with his tenant and friend Wei-Wei (May Chin) so to get the parents off his back and get Wei-Wei a green card.
So reading the story above you have probably thought of about a dozen films already released within ten years of 1993 with pieces of the aforementioned plot, and if you’re thinking of the films that I remember you’re not thinking of them fondly. Here however Lee almost tries to make the film more about culture rather than just sex-role slapstick. The film’s story is so deeply rooted in Chinese culture, as we see Wai-Tung’s parents, Mr. Gao (Sihung Lung) and Mrs. Gao (Ya-lei Kuei), come to America to witness this union and try their best to not only be proud of their son – and new daughter – but also try to enforce their traditions upon the children.
I was almost of the belief, more than half way through this film, that this hoax would be played completely for laughs and that somehow there would be absolutely no strain placed on the already happy relationship of Simon and Wai-Tung, which is where my “casual” comment comes along. There are also few moments we see where Wei-Wei is obviously feeling her own levels of guilt about the marriage and the lies as we see her calling her family and even her reaction to a wonderful speech that Mr. Gao gives the two soon to be wed couple. However, where I think the film finds its best stride is in its follow through. There are many films where we can decide to overstay their welcome, however with this one it almost waits to get to the meat of the matter for too long, but once we’re there it’s something interesting in deed.
In the midst of all the lies and deception Wai-Tung, Wei-Wei and Simon all have their ups and even more downs, but as this is all going on the Gao’s continue to linger and we see how this affects them all. Besides having one the weirdest final shots of a film I’ve seen in a long time this movie manages its final act with such grace that I dare another movie to compete.
I wouldn’t say that Lee succeeded at making a great family comedy, but he definitely did very well at creating a relationship drama with interesting consequence to light hearted beginnings.