李安父親三部曲 (Ang Lee’s Father Trilogy) (Blu-ray release 2019-7-22) is a digitally mastered collection of Ang Lee’s first three movies from 1991 to 1994. This digital remaster, however, is a technical failure. There are unnecessary digital noise reduction artifacts and color grading of certain scenes look wrong.
Video quality aside, this collection shows the unique talent of Ang Lee and his perspective of traditional Chinese family in the modern world.
推手 (Pushing Hands) (1991) shows the cultural conflict between the Chinese father and the American daughter-in-law, and the inability of the son to keep the family in harmony. In order to understand this movie, one must understand it is a Chinese virtue to live with the elderly and take care of them. Although individual scenes are humorous, ultimately we see the destruction of the Chinese family due to Western individualism. The movie reflects the state of being at a loss of what to do with Chinese tradition in the modern world, and the son’s inability to carry out his moral obligation represents Ang Lee’s own guilt towards failing his father’s expectation.
囍宴 (The Wedding Banquet) (1993) is a story about the Chinese son going through a sham marriage with a Chinese woman in order to hide his gay relationship with an American man from his parents. It is a Chinese traditional value to have offspring. Clearly a gay relationship is not going to achieve that. So the son is in conflict between his own desire and his moral obligation. The movie provides a positive but somewhat unrealistic resolution. Interestingly, to uphold the family everyone hides knowledge of the truth from each other. The very last scene with the father being checked by airport security with his hands up represents the surrender of tradition to the modern world. Note that this movie predates another Ang Lee’s award winning gay movie Brokeback Mountain (2005).
飲食男女 (Eat Drink Man Woman) (1994) is a quote from Chinese “飲食男女，人之大欲存焉”, meaning “The things which men greatly desire are comprehended in meat and drink and sexual pleasure”. Although the movie looks like a food porn, the scenes showing the family having dinner actually represents, again, the relationship of the family. Everyone of the characters hide their thought and desires under the table, unlike the food they eat and drink on the table. The lone father cooks for the three daughters. The daughters are also aware of the obligation to stay in the family to provide him company. However, the lies and the willingness to sacrifice for the family led to empty lives, in the words of the screenwriter. The family cannot communicate, just like the food that looks great but with deteriorated taste. The taste deterioration of the father also represents sexual oppression.
Watching the movies as a trilogy, the father in Pushing Hands could only leave the family to maintain the relationship with his son. The father in The Wedding Banquet could only accept the son’s gay nature and hide his knowledge to uphold the family. The father in Eat Drink Man Woman finds himself only after selling the home and destructing the family.
According to Ang Lee, the son in Pushing Hands was at a loss of dealing with heritage. The gay son in The Wedding Banquet weakened this heritage. There is no son in Eat Drink Man Woman, leaving only daughters. The taste of heritage has already deteriorated.
The analysis of the movies in this article is based on http://fungmo.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html by FUNGMO.