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Original Title:
Yin shi nan nu

Taiwan 1994

Drama, Comedy

Ang Lee

Lung Sihung
Wu Chien-lien
Yang Kuei-Mei
Wang Yu-Wen
Sylvia Chang
Chen Chao-jung
Winston Chao
Lester Chan
Chen Yu
Gua Ah Lei
Hsu Gin-Ming
Lin Huel-Yi
Lin Shih-Jay
Lu Chin-Cheng
Hong Chi-Der

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Eat Drink Man Woman

Story: Every Sunday the three sisters Jia-Chien (Wu Chien-Lien), who works at an airline company, Jia-Jen (Yang Kuei-Mei), a teacher, and Jia-Ning (Wang Yu-Wen), who still goes to college, sit at their father's, Chu (Lung Sihung), dining table. That's more or less their family life. Apart from that day, the four don't have much in common and also don't have much to say to each other. But nowadays even Sundays the atmosphere becomes quite cold, and the family gathering almost solely serves the purpose to make important announcements.
Chu is a talented head chef, who, however, started to lose his sense of taste as years went by. His wife died 16 years ago, and from that day on he raised his children on his own. Anyway, it's not that clear to him anymore, if he is still taking care of them, or if his kids are looking after him, nowadays.
Jia-Jen, his oldest daughter, feels especially responsible for her father, which is why she makes a lot of sacrifices and still hasn't got a boyfriend, yet. Nevertheless, the two other sisters are also still searching for true love. Jia-Ning falls in love with the (ex-)boyfriend of her best friend, and Jia-Chien is so busy with work, that there is no time for her to lead a real relationship. However, the day Chu's daughters will move out of their father's home draws near, and thus Chu may have to live on his own in the future. Or maybe he will take loquacious Mrs. Liang (Gua Ah Lei) as his wife?

Review: Before Taiwan's showcase director Ang Lee had international success with his work "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", he was already well known by critics outside of his country for his family dramas about love, obligations and trials and tribulations in life. "Eat Drink Man Woman" is his most prominent work, and not without a reason. The movie depicts the seeking for the recipe of love, and at the same time also gave me more insight into taiwanese culture, than the last 5 films from Taiwan I watched put together. That's quite some achievement, but apart from the quest for love, which any of the protagonists persues in his own way, the film also puts food into the camera's focus. However, food oftentimes metaphorically takes the place of love, and so it's also not a coincidence that Chu loses his sense of taste as years go by.

If you read through the plot summary you may get the feeling that this is a true soap opera in feature film format. Fortuntately, this is not the case, since the actors do a great job, and always manage to portray their emotions in a very crebible way, never running the risk of displaying any sort of exaggerated acting. Of course, there are some sudden revelations, that hit you quite unexpectedly, which is what might actually remind you of a TV-drama, but the very nice directing of Lee and the genuiness, with which the movie introduces us to the lives of the different individuals, is next to none. The film and the story strongly build on their characters, and if they weren't that multi-layered and three-dimensional as it is the case here, "Eat Drink Man Woman" could have easily become an uninteresting drama, in which almost nothing happens at all. Luckily, we can relate to the characters, so that despite the slow pacing, there is always a certain kind of tension, which is also supported by the acting and emotions the actors display.

The framework that serves as a family shown here will be all too familiar to you. Everyone will find some characteristics of relatives in some of the individuals portrayed, which is why it is so easy to relate to the protagonists. Jia-Chien is a respectable businesswoman, who has no time for her family and also wants to escape from it as soon as possible. Her relationship to her father Chu is the most difficult one among the sisters, as she really would have liked to become a cook herself when she was a child, but was not allowed by her father to become one, even though she proved to have quite some talent. Naturally, Chu just wanted his daughter to lead a better life than him, and therefore wanted her to apply to university. Yet, this somewhat destroyed the relationship between her and her father. Even though just minimally you could say that her story is most likely the one that stands in the foreground of the film.
Jia-Jen, being the oldest daughter, feels responsible for the family and her father, which is why she is more of a mother to her sisters than anything else. Nonetheless, her cold character slowly starts to melt down a bit when she meets the new volleyball teacher at her school. The salvation she found in christian religion always gave her the strength to carry on, but now she finally seems to be willing to lay down the burden and obligation she put on her own shoulders.

Only Jia-Ning, the youngest daughter of the three, sadly gets a raw deal. She may have a nice entanglement with the ex-boyfriend of her friend, but unfortunately she only has few dealings with the other family members, and is also granted very little time on screen.
Anyway, the movie comes up with a lot of jaunty and colorful characters. Mrs. Liang is one noteable example of this, as she talks nineteen to a dozen, if she starts to open her mouth (and we all know at least one member in our family who fits into this picture perfectly, don't we?). Or there is Jin-Rong, which by the way is played by director/actress Sylvia Chang, who has a little daughter to whom Chu builds a father-daughter relationship. Even the various boyfriends of Jia-Chien seem to be taken right out of real life.
Of course, the film unfolds with a serene pacing, but thanks to the many emotional scenes, which never pass the border of the overly dramatic, and the fact that the lives of the protagonists are always in motion, it never gets boring. What "Eat Drink Man Woman" exemplifies quite well is that we can never know what life has in store for us.

The beautiful pictures by Ang Lee already give you a hint that this isn't an ordinary drama. Lee knows what he has to focus on, and especially the opening scene in which we get to see Chu cooking, is full of movie magic. Lee also never makes the mistake to accentuate his directing too stiff, but breathes life into his work with some very nice and dynamic camera movement.
"Eat Drink Man Woman" works a lot with its atmosphere, and the mood never feels depressing the way you may have seen it in most other dramas. Actually, the movie has quite some humoristic scenes to it, too, which once again shows us, that life is a manifold dish. Some of the "twists" may feel a bit precipitated, but the relationship between Chu and his daughters always remains genuine, complex and honest.
Ang Lee created a very refreshing family drama, that proves very clearly why he is one of the big names. "Eat Drink Man Woman" is an excerpt from real life, which is what makes it so engaging and moving, without having the need to feel too depressing. A good recipe blends the different ingredients nicely, and Ang Lee must have known that.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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