A closed knit family with repressed emotions is depicted by Ang Lee on the film ‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’ through the smell and taste of the grandeur traditional Chinese cuisine. The movie was filled with many repressed emotional scenes that made my heart beat in many instances and the surprises showed were very surprising indeed. The dysfunctional family system portrayed in the film is dominantly portrayed. The dynamic scenes are further elaborated with some of it with psychology ideas pinning on it are as follow:-
1. Mr. Chu’s big announcement of being with Mrs. Liang’s daughter (Jin Rong)
It was a dinner gathering of Mr. Chu’s whole family along with Mrs. Liang and Jin Rong. Everyone (especially Mr. Chu’s daughters and Mrs. Liang) expected a big announcement from Mr. Chu on announcing that he will be getting together with Mrs. Liang. Throughout the dinner, Mrs. Liang was acting and speaking very gently and shy, acting like the woman/ ‘mother’ of the family. The whole dinner table was filled with tension as after Mr. Chu suddenly announced his engagement with Mrs. Liang’s daughter instead to her. Mrs. Liang went into a state of delirium and rage against Mr. Chu. The whole family was in utter shock of the announcement. It was a dynamic scene as I was least expecting that the traditional Mr. Chu would pursue on such non-conventional relationship
2. Food symbolism of love and hatred
The traditional Chinese food itself is a symbol for the Chu family’s news, whether bitter or sweet it is all rather subjective. For example, the grandeur scale of the dinner (intricate details of the food making on image) during Mr. Chu’s big announcement can be portrayed as sweet news for Mr. Chu as he is celebrating his being together with Jin Rong as a celebration whereas for the rest of the family and Mrs. Liang, they would perceive it as bitter new to the point of Mrs. Liang had a minor ‘fainting spell’ and going amok about it.
Another plot is that Mr. Chu’s failing taste buds which equals to his loss of zest for life. He is considered a great man in Taipei’s culinary circles, but not at home. It is showed that his relationships with his children are deteriorating but he directs all of his still available passions and grand statements into his cooking to show his love for them and so that he may operate on the cool and resilient side that best works in dealing with his daughters. For example, the weekly Sunday dinner tradition is his show of love for his daughters because he is not an expressive father who shows how he neither feels nor tells how he feels for them. Hence, food is his only approach to show his love for them. On the other hand, his daughters find the Sunday dinner tradition as a nuisance that disrupt their lives especially Jia Chien who thinks it is a waste of time and food.
3. Mr. Chu as the “Chef” – Gender role inequality in modern Taiwan
The role of a chef is traditionally a powerful male role. As such Mr. Chu exerts a sense of higher authority in the kitchen, besides being the elder in the family and the father. His authoritative role is not well recognised by his daughters who further complicate matters as he is a single parent, being both the mother and father roles and perform many conventional feminine cuties such as waking his daughters up in the morning, cook and feed his daughters and doing their laundries. Chef Chu does not allow his second daughter (Jia Chien) into the kitchen or to become a chef herself.
She was dissuaded from following her passion in becoming a chef and instead encouraged to attend university which then she became a successful corporate airline career. Jia Chein thought that her father was being traditional and rigid thinking that women cannot be good chefs. This showed the perceived gender roles inequalities. Since the sex revolution in 1950s, men and women have attained equal status and roles. Supposedly in the modern Taiwan, gender equality is to be advocated and applied but it is portrayed otherwise in the film. However, a close family friend (Uncle Wen) revealed that what Chef Chu wants for Jia Chien is an easier and better life away from the kitchen and not because of the traditional male role to be a chef. Interestingly, at the end of the movie, Jia Chien’s return to the home kitchen and cooking for her father brought back Chef Chu’s lost sense of taste (on image). This act can be seen as promoting feminist views, as her cooking can be interpreted as a demonstration of female culinary power.
4. Mr. Chu and his three daughters’ relationship
Mr. Chu is unable to communicate expressively with his own daughters even though he loves them all dearly (can be seen from the elaborate Sunday dinners he put efforts into).
On one incident, he left the dinner table upon received a call from his friend to return to his former workplace in a restaurant to help out. He left his three daughters alone without even finishing the dinner nor did telling them what happen (shows to neglect his daughters, choosing work over family).
His act may show that he does not love his daughters as he put his work as the main priority in life than his family. This may have led to the attachment issues such as insecure (may be seen in the first daughter Jia Jen or avoidant attachment in the Jia Chien). Avoidant attachment shows resistance against their loved ones can be portrayed by Jia Chien of being resistant toward his father by commenting that his meal tasted unsatisfactorily, for instance. As for insecure attachment of Jia Jen which is further elaborate on the next point (#5).
5. First daughter’s (Jia Jen) personality
Jia Jen (on the image on the right) portrayed as the “mother” by being detached from her closest sister Jia Chien ever since their mother passed away. Although she is just the eldest sister and daughter, she took up the role of being the ‘filial’ eldest daughter to bear the family’s responsibility of caring for their father while on the expense of neglecting or fabricating a story of her ‘failed romance relationship’ during her college time (which Jia Chien found out from the supposed “heartbreaker” Li-Kai) which caused her to turn away from the world by being abstinent and remained single for 9 years.
Jia Jen remained single and made up the story may be caused by her insecure attachment with her father. As it is seen that Jia Chien is the favourite daughter amongst the three of the daughters and Jia Jen may have harboured jealousy over the matter so she over-compensated it. Insecure attachment states that one exhibits anxiousness and ambivalence in relationship. For example, she does it by blaming that she is single for that long after the alleged ‘failed relationship with her college sweetheart’ is because she has to stay at home to care for their father as she is the eldest daughter and it is her responsibility (hopes to be the favourite child). Also, when she met the new gym teacher, she was sceptical about the love letters she received daily that it may be from him (she was cynical towards him but yet admired him from afar) but unfortunately it was a prank by her students.
Upon finding out, she got furious and announced on the public podium in school about the writer of the love letters to reveal to her. She got very emotional and angry (insecure traits) upon knowing that it was not the gym teacher who sent her the love letters (showing her insecurity in developing relationship). When the gym teacher consoled her, she was bold to kiss him and eventually the story proceeded with them getting married. The impulsivity of her sexual prowess and wanting to Christian-fied him shows that she has an insecure attachment (anxious and worry) that her husband will leave her, so the controlling part of her is showed towards the end of the movie when she got her husband Baptist to be a Christian. A symbol of controlling her relationship because she is less trusting of others and jealousy of others.
6. Modernization and globalization to depict change
Based on the physicality of the scenes portrayed – Chef Chu’s elaborate traditional family meals, the luxurious cuisine of The Grand Hotel, and the fast food restaurant where his youngest daughter (Jia Ning) works all coexist, representing the state of change in the modern and globalized Taiwan.
Furthermore, the film portrays a variety of new, “non-traditional” relationships and family structures. For instance, Jia Ning gets pregnant while still a student who subsequently marries her boyfriend, leaving her father’s home sooner than expected. Chef Chu also presented a new familial structure when he got married to a younger woman (Jin Rong) and moved out of the family home, charting a new future and second family life.
Throughout the movie, the Chu family evolved with the themes of relationship value conflicts and family change. Overall, it is a film that challenged the conventional Chinese way of how a family structure work and relationships formed. It is a rather slow pacing film but packed with strong non-verbal speech spoken. With that I would reckon a couple of similar themed films as ‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’ with the focus of food symbolism on life, familial relationships and patriarchal figure are as follow:-
Tortilla soup (remake Ang Lee’s ‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’ in Mexican settings) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTbf7cph4yI
Chocolat – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32x33l2sLe8