07 April 2008

Eat Drink Man Woman

Little that I knew that it's going to be a double bill today, but it's a national holiday today, a perfect time for clearing up outstanding bills. Eat Drink Man Woman is one of those things that have remained on my desk for a long long time. A student lent it to me. I watched it long time ago on VHS and have since wanted to refresh my memory of it.

On my second viewing, I discovered that I could get a lot more from the film and could identify more with main characters. The setting is Taipei in the time of change and modernisation, not unlike Bangkok. Like Ang Lee's other films of this period, especially The Wedding Banquet (1993), it deals with the clash between traditional and contemporary cultures or the inter-generational conflict of cultural perspectives.

The aforementioned clash is between the old father and his three daughters who have grown up and acquainted themselves with the new ways of life. The whole plot centres around confessions and dialogues during the Sunday dinner time when a Chinese family normally spends time together, mine not excluded. The film is about female sexuality and its growing acceptance in modern-day Taipei where women do tend to have more and more recognised rights in making their own decisions. However, the film says that this growing recognition does not go in line with happiness, as sometimes they do make mistakes and somehow advice from parents is still indispensable, though the parents are also no less confused in the modern urban landscape where change is quick and unpredictable.

The house is a poignant symbol; it can effectively symbolise Taipei, an old city that needs to constantly adjust itself to change. There's no time for those who linger or hold onto an old tradition. The father himself realises this in the end and chooses not to 'go gentle into the night', letting one of his daughters, Jia-Chien, to take control of the house. If we take this as an allegory, it may mean that modern Taipei is now in the hand of a capable beautiful woman, who is a great cook as well as a successful businesswoman. Gone is the day when one can take hours cooking food for a whole family. Replaced is a compromise between work and life, family and friends. But Jia-Chien is still alone, while her two sisters are married. We're not quite sure whether she's happy but she survives nonetheless.

By ending thus, the film portrays an apt picture of contemporary Taipei, where an influx of western modernisation and capitalism has replaced its old Chinese tradition and way of life. It doesn't promise happiness but it does imply that self-adjustment in face of these changes is necessary.

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