Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) at EON
I mentioned in this blog that I would not concentrate any more on the representation of old women in films but widen my interest and abandon the time-consuming film analysis approach.
After being alerted to Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands (Cinema, Films, and Ageing, Posted on October 18, 2018) by a couple of EON members of the Ealing film club I decided to explore this director. I viewed Eat Drink Man Woman at home and was so delighted that I showed it to the EON (Ealing Over 60 Network) film group meeting.
The drama of widower Master Chef Chu and his daughters is treated in a sensitive and light hearted way.
I will use the daughters’ identifiers Daughter 1 2 and 3 in order of seniority: Jia-Jen, a chemistry teacher converted to Christianity, Jia-Chien, an airline executive, and Jia-Ning, a student.
What I found interesting is that of the 18 women and one man 8 of them had seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. Some also knew the director’s name of these famous films. One viewer only realised after the end of the film that she had seen it before but appreciated it better.
As usual people were keen to speak and at times the conversations were animated and impossible to record. The first speaker said that the film was eminently unpredictable and this helped maintain her interest throughout. Later one woman said that “it is a good thing that there was not a happy ending”. The laughs during viewing were many and indicated – to use the major food metaphor of the film – the sweet/sour feel of this family drama.
Generally the exchanges were focused on the importance of food and the lives and relationships of the various members of the family. Their roles and relationships in the household and outside the home were examined.
There was special stress on the fact that the ritual weekly family meal that the father spent a lot of time and expertise in preparing was considered as a chore by the daughters. Also that the father was treated with respect at work. The issue of his fate when the sisters left home was considered.
The audience was divided on assessing the daughter1 and her past. Was her affair with a fellow student who disappeared abroad a fantasy or a betrayal? He appears again as a business colleague of Daughter2. He denies the affair and has only a vague recollection of Daughter1. Some thought that she was repressed and fantasised, others that you couldn’t trust a man and she was betrayed.
One person felt that the representation of Daughter2 in spite of her liberated lifestyle was sexist.
It was noted that the last scene where father and daughter2 en tete a tete share the ritual meal of the first scenes was an indication that the daughter was replicating the life of her father and doing what she always wanted to do: cooking in her father’s kitchen to get his approval.
We only had a half an hour for the discussion and I have no doubt that there was further informal talk over the ritual afternoon tea.
I wondered why I did not mind the father marrying a woman his daughters’ age and the comic representation of mother and grandmother. But I found the whole film so subtle and kind that I just could not find fault with it. I must find time to study its complex structure and the use of metaphors as well as the treatment of old age, and men’s friendships.The last aspects was not hinted at during the short discussion. WHY?