Released in 1994, Eat Drink Man Woman is one of Ang Lee’s early Taiwanese films. Lee later went on to win awards and international fame with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I would argue that his earlier films have more depth and insight than his later more Western influenced productions.
Eat Drink Man Woman is one of the great films about food, and opens with ageing master chef Mr Chu preparing his weekly Sunday banquet for his three daughters, an elaborate family tradition which has become something they’ve all taken for granted. ‘The Sunday dinner torture ritual,’ as the middle daughter describes it.
The film’s title is from one of the Confucian classics the Book Of Rites which sees ‘meat and drink and sexual pleasure’ as things that should be accepted as natural in human life. But Eat Drink Man Woman is more than a film about food, it’s about the part food, and the preparation of food, plays in creating and celebrating family life.
If you’ve yet to sample the early films of Ang Lee start with Eat Drink Man Woman and you’ll soon find you’re in for a mouth-watering experience.
Mr Chu puts lots of preparation into preparing dinner for his daughters, but he has lost his sense of taste and they no longer totally appreciate his cooking and the family has started to take each other for granted over the years. They’ve lost the taste for family life, especially family life with a traditional Chinese flavour.
As the banquets tick by and each daughter finds new relationships and experiences away from the family dinner table, they start to see the importance of family connections play in their own new lives. Chu Jia-Chien, the fiercely independent and strong-willed middle daughter says, ‘I don’t have any childhood memories unless I cook them into existence.’
The taste for food is the taste for life itself and it takes Mr Chu to experience the loss of his close friend Lao Wen and to see the chance of a new family life for himself before he starts to regain his sense of taste and build fresh bonds with his own daughters.
Cooking for your family is the ultimate expression of love and I know from family experience that cooking for the family is an especially important part of Chinese tradition.
If you’ve yet to sample the early films of Ang Lee before he went west, then start with Eat Drink Man Woman and you’ll soon find you’re in for a mouth-watering experience.