As we celebrate Chinese New Year, I couldn’t go past this delectable rom-com drama where the preparation and eating of Chinese food plays a starring role.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) is a classic foodie film by one of my favourite film directors, Ang Lee. A master of contemporary cinema spanning all genres, from romantic dramas Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility, to action films Life of Pi and another Chinese cinema favourite of mine, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Lee continues to surprise and delight cinema goers with his accomplished and versatile storytelling.
Eat Drink Man Woman is a story of a widowed father, his three unmarried daughters and each of their love lives, while exploring family dysfunction, our relationship with food, and how life doesn’t always play out as you’d expect.
The Sunday family dinner plays an important role in the narrative, with retired yet still masterful chef, Chu, preparing an elaborate banquet for his daughters each week. This is seemingly paired with a special announcement from each of the family members, throwing the family into turmoil with entertaining consequences.
The role of food and how the characters communicate through it spans from fast food through to the dying art of traditional Chinese cuisine, and the level of detail that Ang Lee goes to ensure authenticity is remarkable. One hundred dishes appear in the film, specifically prepared for the screen with food consultant expert, Lin Huei-Yi. She also coached the actors on the physical preparation of the dishes with choreography devised to mimic traditional chefs’ movements.
These sequences are a pleasure to watch, especially for those who admire the skill of a master of their craft. A perfect demonstration of art imitating life, which results in the inevitable – you’re going to want to eat Chinese food. So make sure you have something delicious planned during this film, and if you’re not much of a cook, you can always go out for yum cha and make your own special announcement – “Hou Nian Da Ji!/Happy Year of the Monkey!”
Food on Film: Episode 6
Eat Drink Man Woman (Taiwanese) Directed by Ang Lee, 124 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles
Good for those who
Express themselves through food and cooking
Scene to look out for
The opening scene – arguably the best cooking sequence ever captured for cinema shows Master Chef Chu skillfully (and somehow casually) creating a banquet to rival all banquets, yet just another Sunday family dinner for four.
We rate it
5 out of 5
Dongo Pork by Chef’s Gallery. Now don’t be intimidated by this recipe, most of the work is at the start then you let the stove do the rest, but you still feel a little chef-like for your efforts. Serve with steamed rice and Chinese greens. Perfect chopstick and bowl food for the couch!
More Food on Film episodes
Episode 8: Soul Food (USA)
Episode 7: Chocolat (USA)
Episode 5: The Lunch Box (India)
Episode 4: That Sugar Film (Australia)
Episode 3: Big Night
Episode 2: Babette’s Feast (Denmark)
Episode 1: Tampopo (Japan)