Episode 26 - The Wedding Banquet

Post date: Jul 16, 2017 7:32:23 PM

The Wedding Banquet (1993)

www.imdb.com/title/tt0107156/ - Internet Movie Data Base

www.netflix.com/title/60011421 - Netflix

http://amzn.to/2uoDg3C - Amazon

The DVD summary says

"Successful New Yorker Wai Tung and his partner Simon are blissfully happy, except for one thing: Wai Tung's conservative Taiwanese parents are determined he find a nice girl to marry! To please them and get a tax break he arranges a sham marriage to Wei Wei, a sexy go-getter in need of a green card. But when his family swoops down for the extravaganza, Wai Tung would do well to remember that at a traditional Chinese wedding banquet, sexual repression takes the night off!"

I was actually prepared for this to be a crappy movie. I expected the summary to be like so many others - vaguely written so I could interpret it as suggesting a potential poly story, get me hopeful, but ultimately to let me down with sex-negative values and a cautionary tale against bucking "tradition".

I am so happy to have been wrong.

One of the benefits of polyamory, in my opinion, is that polyamory is a fundamental change of mindset on what makes a "family". Regardless of what form any given poly group takes, or even what any individual thinks "counts" as polyamorous, the underlying requirement for polyamory is to be able to design your own relationships based on the needs and wants of the individuals involved. And I think that's a valuable paradigm shift no matter what relationship structure any given family group ends up as. With polyamory becoming a "movement", that is, a recognized word and concept demanding social acceptance, we are seeing more people designing their own relationships, whether they call it polyamory, or even whether it "counts" as polyamory, or not.

I think that families have always done this, but I think there has been more heartache and more lies to cover it up. The Wedding Banquet illustrates, not only the lies and heartache that goes into forcing a family group to look like it's "supposed" to rather than what it is, but also the changing climate of society where acceptance of alternative family structures makes for more happiness than adhering to "tradition" under the erroneous belief that "tradition" has always been so, therefore it's the best way ever, did.

Wai-Tung Gao is a Chinese immigrant and American citizen living in New York with his boyfriend, Simon. They have a stable, happy relationship and have been together for 5 years. But Wai-Tung's family is very traditional Chinese. Mr. Gao was a commander in the army and has survived a stroke only by the thought of living long enough to see his first grandchild. Mrs. Gao signs Wai-Tung up, without his permission, for every matchmaking service she can find in an effort to get him married, to carry on the family name and honor his family. They are completely unaware that Wai-Tung is gay and that he lives with Simon.

Mr. Gao invested in an apartment building for Wai-Tung to own and manage, and in the loft of that run down building lives Wei-Wei, another Chinese immigrant who is a struggling artist. Because Wei-Wei can't hold down a job and her art is not generating any income, she lives in substandard living conditions by renting the loft, which is not zoned for habitation, at a very low price. The building is a dump, the air conditioning and the water are always broken, and she has to call Wai-Tung all the time to fix things.

Wai-Tung takes pity on Wei-Wei, and lets her slide on the rent sometimes, even though she makes him uncomfortable by flirting with him and expressing envy that Simon has such a handsome boyfriend. Eventually, she loses yet another job, and when Wai-Tung comes over with Simon to install a new air conditioner, she confesses that she will have to move back to China because she has no money and she can't find a "stupid American" to marry her for a green card.

Later, Simon suggests to Wai-Tung that marrying Wei-Wei would solve everybody's problems. Getting married would get Wai-Tung's family off of his back, and Wei-Wei would have a green card and a place to live so that she wouldn't have to go back to China. Wai-Tung is resistant, but Simon convinces him to try it.

So they move Wei-Wei into their basement bedroom until the immigration process is over, and Wai-Tung tells his family that he's getting married. Things seem to be running smoothly, until Wai-Tung's parents announce that they're coming to America for the wedding. Naturally, everyone freaks out, but Simon takes it upon himself to coach Wei-Wei about the things a wife should know about her future-husband, and Simon and Wei-Wei switch bedrooms.

The parents arrive, and Wai-Tung goes through the charade, looking very uncomfortable every step of the way, but Simon watches over him a bit bemusedly. Simon never once exhibits any sort of jealousy or resentment, even when praise for Simon's meal all goes to Wei-Wei because part of the scheme is to convince his parents that she is a worthy wife, including being a good cook.

Now, a gay couple who needs a woman as part of the household is a pretty good place to start changing the social climate about what constitutes a family. I don't know that *I* would necessarily call it "poly", if it's only the two men who have a romantic relationship, but two men and a woman who share a dwelling and raise children certainly qualifies as "family" in my book. Especially when all parties are there with the blessing and welcome of everyone else. We can quibble about the fine print of whether it's poly or not, but I don't think it really matters in the long run. If a family of that arrangement wants to call itself poly, I see no benefit in arguing the point, and plenty of sex-centric and sex-negative harm in insisting on arguing the point.

The question comes in when this family is arranged for the purpose of hiding the true arrangement from other people, namely, the parents. Because of my opposition to the way marriage is handled in this country, I actually have no issues whatsoever with a couple marrying for the legal benefits that marriage offers, such as a green card. I know it's technically fraudulent, but since I have a problem with the whole foundation of a government tying legal benefits to emotional entanglements, I see no *moral* problem with this situation. So, that leaves us with the parents.

If it weren't for the parents, and the green card, the threesome would remain a twosome, and that's where the discussion of "is this poly?" comes in. That's what makes this situation more complicated than the hypothetical gay-couple-and-woman-form-a-family that I posed above. This arrangement is being done for the benefit of people who are not part of the relationship.

So, for about 2/3 of the movie, I was composing in my head the review for this movie with this in mind, leaning towards "not poly" but still a good movie - especially for those interested in LGBT issues. But then I changed my mind. I've decided this is, at the very least, poly-ISH, but in order to explain it, I will have to give away some spoilers.


It was Simon's idea for Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei to get married and, although he is against lying in the first place, because he loves Wai-Tung, once he has committed to the charade, he never wavers on that score. He never accuses Wai-Tung of turning on him, of switching teams, or of leaving him. He never accuses Wei-Wei of moving in on his turf, of trying to steal Wai-Tung, or of being a homewrecker. He embraces Wei-Wei as part of the family and does his best to smooth things along.

Wai-Tung's parents insist, as part of their family honor, on throwing a huge wedding banquet after Wai-Tung "shames" them with a quickie City Hall wedding. The fraud starts to weigh heavily on the bride and groom as they are forced to go through tradition after tradition, meant to cement the marriage and instill the pressure of honor and family on the couple. But Simon goes through it all, supporting the couple and keeping the peace. As the best man, he gets to remain by Wai-Tung's side, but never as the jealous secret, always as the supportive partner whose lover is in a difficult position.

His apparent enthusiasm for the wedding festivities is how I imagine any poly OSO would act when his partner marries another. It's how I imagine Franklin would have behaved if I had married my metamour Maxine for the health benefits - a business arrangement between trusted friends that he would celebrate and support. Even through the enforced kissing of the bride and groom, and the regular reminders of the hetero marriage while being completely ignored and left out by the entire wedding party who are unaware of his relationship to the groom, Simon faces the whole ordeal with good humor and compassion.

Wei-Wei has a crush on Wai-Tung from the beginning. As the farce continues, she is reminded over and over again how serious and important marriage is, and she seems to be having doubts. But as the banquet drags on, and the alcohol flows, she appears to leave behind the tension of her secret and falls into the role of the happy bride.

Eventually, the end of the reception draws near as wedding guests are passed out on the hotel ballroom floor and the bride and groom are obviously drunk and exhausted. The "happy" couple withdraws to their complimentary newlywed suite upstairs while Simon takes the groom's parents home. As Wai-Tung collapses on the bed, room service knocks on the door.

But it's not room service.

Too late to stop at Wai-Tung's command, Wei-Wei opens the door to yet another Chinese wedding tradition - the Newlywed Invasion. The peer group of the bride and groom invade the couple's room on their wedding night to drink and play games, both encouraging the consummation of the marriage and interfering with it. They bring card tables and folding chairs, and appear to be settling in for one hell of an all-night-long party. The guests demand that the bride and groom play little games, like blindfolding the groom and making him find maraschino cherries placed on the bride's stomach and chest with his mouth, while she writhes beneath him, tickled by his seeking.

Wai-Tung tries to get his guests to leave, and they finally agree to leave after one more game. The bride and groom are to get under the covers and take off all their clothes. The guests will not leave until every single article of clothing has hit the floor. So the couple complies, and the guests leave. Finally, Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei are left alone, naked, in bed together.

Wai-Tung starts to fall asleep, but Wei-Wei has other plans. In an alcohol-induced fugue, she seduces Wai-Tung and we are led to believe that they have sex.

After the wedding, Wai-Tung, Wei-Wei, and Simon go back to their pretend family while Wai-Tung's parents hang around for a couple of weeks. They end up staying much longer than planned because Mr. Gao's blood pressure is too high to risk flying. So now things start to get a little tense. Simon, although he still supports the sham that was his idea and still does not resent Wei-Wei, is nevertheless getting irritable at not being allowed to sleep next to his partner, and at having their sex life curtailed. Wei-Wei is getting cranky because she is required to sleep every night next to a man she has a crush on, knowing that he would rather be in someone else's bed. Wai-Tung is stressed out because his parents are still there, he is married to someone he didn't want to be married to, Simon is continuing his social life without him, and he has to constantly soothe everyone else's hurt feelings.

A couple more weeks later, we learn that Wei-Wei is pregnant from her wedding night. Simon throws a fit, but not because Wai-Tung had sex with Wei-Wei - Wai-Tung had already confessed to getting drunk and things getting "a little out of hand". No, Simon is pissed because Wai-Tung did not have *safe* sex, and now their family can't go back to normal after the parents leave, as was the plan. Simon decides that he is leaving when the parents do and Wei-Wei decides to have an abortion, since the marriage was never supposed to last anyway, so it's not fair to have a child in that situation - after all, once she has been granted citizenship, she will be free to divorce and marry again for love.

Then Mr. Gao has another stroke, and after watching his life fall apart around him, Wai-Tung finally confesses everything to his mother. She is devastated, she doesn't understand what she did wrong to get a gay son, and she insists that the father never be told.

One day, Simon is out walking with Mr. Gao. Simon regularly walks with and cares for him since his stroke. Mr. Gao says, in English, "happy birthday Simon" and hands him a red envelope. Simon, surprised, says "you speak English?" Mr. Gao has hidden this fact even from his son, who has had conversations and arguments in English around his parents, believing that they could not understand what was being said.

Simon opens the envelope and discovers a thick wad of U.S. bills. Suddenly, it dawns on Simon that red is the Chinese color for marriage, and that Mr. Gao gave this exact same gift to Wei-Wei when he arrived, as the traditional wedding present. [inserted video clip of the conversation between Simon and Mr. Gao].

The next day, Wei-Wei and Wai-Tung leave for the abortion clinic, and Mrs. Gao, suspecting what they're about to do, tries to stop them, or at least tries to go with them to make sure they are really only "going shopping". But the couple leaves without her. On the way to the clinic, Wei-Wei has a change of heart. She tells Wai-Tung that she wants to keep the baby, and if Wai-Tung wants to help, he can find her an apartment with no rent, but if he doesn't want to help, then to just stay out of her way.

Wai-Tung, upon hearing that he is about to be a father, decides that he will be a part of his child's life. But first, he should ask Simon how he feels. Wei-Wei agrees that they ought to talk to Simon.

Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei come home, and Simon approaches them, his face full of concern, and asks if everything went OK and how does Wei-Wei feel? [inserted move clip where Simon is asked to be one of the fathers of the baby].

And THAT'S where this movie became a poly movie for me.

Simon looks at them incredulously for a moment, then a tentative smile appears as he realizes what they're asking. The three embrace in a group hug. It became a poly movie here because it was no longer a business arrangement, and it wasn't even really a Vee anymore, in spite of who is having sex with whom. Even if, sexually, the arrangement is still two gay men and a single mother, the inclusion of Simon as a parental participant made this, to me, a poly family. It wasn't a gay couple and a single mother, and it wasn't a gay man with his lover, and his baby-mama as two arms in a Vee. It was a family of three parents. And that made it poly in my eyes.

Finally, the parents leave and the movie ends with the three main characters in a group hug, watching the parents go, with Wai-Tung in the middle.

Even though this movie ended happily with a baby on the way, I do not believe that it falls under the RBAMP fallacy (Relationship Broken Add More People). The group relationship was not hopelessly flawed and only "saved" by the addition of a baby. The group relationship actually worked just fine. At first, it was little more than a business arrangement, but the characters grew closer together as they lived together. The conflict came from outside, from the parents, who represented all of society and the social disapproval of alternative relationships. Once there was honest communication, and once the family was able to stand on its own and the parents left, things worked out just fine.

This movie touched me because I could relate to each of the characters, at different times in my life. I remember when I was too afraid to tell my parents about being poly. I know how stressful it is to not be acknowledged by my partner because he's afraid to tell his family about me. I also know, even though I disapprove of the lie, how to feel support and compassion for my partner and to aid him in the deception, for his sake. And, I know how it feels to have a crush on someone who doesn't return my feelings, and to be so poor and so out of options, that a business marriage seems like a perfectly reasonable solution.

This is yet another one of those fuzzy-border poly-ish situations. I enjoyed the movie, and I recommend watching it.

You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!

To subscribe on iTunes or leave a review, visit https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/poly-ish-movie-reviews-by/id994404536?mt=2