PAUSE IT: What do you see? A picture from a wedding photo montage of happy couple Wei-Wei (May Chin) and Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao) in director Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993). But wait — the nuptial bliss of the photo belies a deeper and unhappy truth. In order to please his traditional Taiwanese parents, Wai-Tung Gao, a gay man living in New York with his male partner, presents the noncitizen Wei-Wei with a plan: get married in a sham wedding and in exchange, be given a green card. As you might imagine, when Wai-Tung’s conservative mother and father show up and insist upon an elaborate ceremony, a comedy ensues, but in what way does the above wedding montage work on a more thematic level? Within the frame of the photograph, Lee embeds themes of family, formality, and tradition in ways that are likely not too different from most wedding photos. What makes this particular sequence stand out, however, is the way Lee juxtaposes shots of the farcical photo session with shots of the resulting developed photos. These images, when placed in context of the larger story, elevate the film’s central themes of identity, individuality, sexual expression, and modernity to poignant art. One of Ang Lee’s first hit movies, The Wedding Banquet shows Lee’s early promise as a director adept at mixing comedic and dramatic tones. So too would he show his talents for mixing formal techniques to great effect. As when coupled with the madcap photo session, the stilted photography of the wedding party pictures acts as a kind of point-counterpoint. The uproarious tone witnessed in this scene undercuts the grave seriousness of the characters’ inner turmoil. The rigidity of the sham wedding photos, when contrasted with the almost farcical reality of the photo session, is both humorous and heartbreaking.

Take home The Wedding Banquet as a part of your 2018 resolution to watch more LGBT-friendly films.

The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Winston Chao, May Chin, Ah-Lei Gua
Cinematography by: Jong Lin
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.