Eat, Drink, Man, Woman – Chu

Eat Drink Man Woman (referred to as EDMW) is described by the majority of reviewers as a film about a clash between Father and Daughters, between Tradition and Modernity. Few have commented on Chu as an old man. EDMW is structured like a large puzzle composed of many small puzzles each one complete and each one having a special theme. What I am looking at in this post is the Old Man theme.  Chu has been a widower for the last 16 years and has three adult daughters who live with him.  Chu Jia-Jen – the eldest (D1), Chu Jia-Chien – the middle (D2), Chu Jia-Ning (D3) – the youngest. 

Chu the Master chef: is established in the credit sequences when he is seen cooking for the ritual family lunch in his kitchen. This kitchen intrigued me when I first saw the film. It does not have the character of a home kitchen or a restaurant. It is really a way of conveying how expert Chu is in his skills.  30+knives and cleavers hang on the wall, the table is laden with a variety of containers from cooking vessel, to beautiful serving plates. Stewing pots, frying pans are evident. In the yard earthenware from small to very large, hanging lengths of onions, herbs and the chicken fill the space.

In this environment we see Chu using many ways of preparing and cooking a variety of food. He catches a live fish from its bucket, descales it, fillets it, flours it, fries it. He gets hold of a chicken in the coop, under the eyes of a group of frogs, and then through a complicated of steps cooks it and arranges it in a china serving plate. The speed at which he slices meat or vegetables, the rapid stuffing of parcels is fascinating. A scan of the wall shows a series of professional photos testifying to the many different stages of his career. More than a man cooking a meal for his three daughters, this montage demonstrates all the skills needed to achieve the title of Chef that we realise Chu has attained.
This is confirmed by an urgent call for him to rescue a situation at the restaurant where he is the Chef. He leaves everything and rushes out. We are then introduced to a restaurant with an  impressive number of tables, and a huge kitchen with a crowd of busy staff.  He is greeted by a rather agitated maitre d’hotel who helps him put his chef’s uniform and implores him to save the day. A group of cooks and Old Wen chef gather around listening with respect to his instructions on how to repair the mistakes.  The maitre d’hotel is relieved.  

Chu’s friend: Old Wen is a family friend and permits Chu to express himself freely.  When a young kitchen assistant is rude to Chu it is Old Wen who restrain Chu from reacting aggressively. Over a drink Chu declares that he hopes  that the daughters leave home so he can have a quiet life. He is depressed, his sense of taste is getting worse and worse and he quotes: ‘your appetite is done when the dish is done. Eat, drink, it pisses me off.  Is that all there is in life?’   Old Wen replies with another saying : Good sound is not in the ear, Good taste is not in mouth and good sexGod knows where ……When Old Wen dies Chu is devastated and with D2 takes care of the last rites.

Chu’s role as Father:  In the mornings after his daily jog he is seen waking up the three daughters. He does the cooking, the washing up, the laundry. He even puts their clothes away though not always to the right sister. He cooks the Sunday lunches that he considers as a ritual to be preserved for the three daughters.  The table is laden with mouth-watering dishes and everybody shares. He does not talk much but is very  sensitive to the slightest expression on their faces.   Chu looking worried starts a sentence: In the past two days … but he stops  when he sees the imperceptible facial expression of D2 and asks Chu: something wrong? D2: no it is fine – Chu questioning face – D2: nothing a …nothing  – Chu: say it – D2: the ham is over-smoked –  D1: it’s fine. Father probably forgot to taste it D2: or his taste is getting worse – Chu: my taste is fine.  He leaves the table rather upset. In his absence, the daughters talk about Mrs. Lian, mother of their friend Jin-Rong, who is  back from the USA unable to adapt to the exile. Mrs. Liang is a smart old woman, very talkative. As the daughters comment of the possibility that she will provide companionship for the father. He is back . Chu: like I have time to gossip after taking care of you three …these past two days… Seeing D2’s’ expression:  What now? D2 interrupts: I have a little announcement to make and declares that she purchased a modern new apartment and would move away. Chu comments laconically about the wisdom of investing in property. When the property company loses all of D2’s apartment and savings  Chu does not comment except to say that she can still live in his house. 

HOW THE SISTERS LOOK AT THEIR FATHER:  The sisters consider the ritual lunch as a chore.  In the absence of their father called urgently they discuss the situation. When D2 announces that she will leave soon to live in her flat, D1 is sombre. D2 understands that it is not fair to leave D1 to care for the old man but he can barely stand the sight of her. She lives in a different world. D3 very down to earth does not see a problem and that this is bound to happen. While D2 understands her sister’s upset she carries on saying the father does not need them anymore. D2 declares that  what he really needs is a companion his own age like  Mrs. Liang . D3 : we’ve tried setting him up and its been a disaster the only true love in his life was our mother. There follows an argument about the marital relationship of their parents seen differently:  D1 maintains that the relationship was based on real old-fashioned respect and values while D2 asserts that it was an old-fashioned war that ended when Mother died.

This is followed by the scene of D1 and her close friend Jin-Rong debating the situation. They compare the friend’s mother Mrs. Liang  who wants to live  with her daughter and. D1 ‘same here father wants to live with me’.  Jin-Rong : ‘it is not the same. Chu is much stronger than my mum. He takes care of himself and others’. D1: ‘my Dad needs attention too. I will take care of him for the rest of his life. Friend: ‘I am sure he does not want that.’ (Once again we see Lee’s skill in irony in dropping hints that will make sense later in the film.) 

However D2’s attitude towards her father changes completely when in hospital to visit Old Wen she catches a sight of her father. She starts worrying about him:  Is he all right? She accompanies him to  Old Wen death rituals and supports him in his grief. We learn later that Chu visit to the  hospital was to get a good health testimony for his marriage. 

Chu’s interest in children: on his jogging exercise Chu meets Liang Jin-Rong and her daughter Shan-Shan.   He finishes up by walking Shan Shan to school and providing lunchtime food to the children. A very funny scene shows Shan-Shan in class taking orders from a crowd of kids  for their lunch. It transpires that her mother and grandmother are very bad at cooking. 

Old man retires: The restaurant manager visits Chu to persuade him not to retire “ The restaurant needs your presence”. But Chu’s response: “Do I just stand in the kitchen until I rest in Peace, like Old Wen? “ and argue that good food is not appreciated anymore. “Fortunately, I do not plan wasting my whole life on this stuff.”  

Chu’s sexuality: Openly his friend Old Wen declares “you are as repressed as a turtle”. Sexual images can be interpreted in a cut from D2 making love to Chu handling a chicken and a very brief shot of Chu rather tense introducing a couple of two sticks in the mouth a fish.  If an interest in his body can be interpreted as a revival of sexuality, we can see that the scenes of massages and hot tubs appear towards the end of the film.

A major twist in the narrative provides, fun at the expense of Mrs. Liang and resolution  of the problem of care of the Father when the daughters leave home. Chu has always been very tolerant of Mrs. Liang constant chatter. At a formal family meal, after an excruciatingly embarrassing time and many drinks Chu announces his intention of selling the family house and marrying Liang Jin-Rong.  Everybody is shocked but Mrs. Liang is hysterical and collapses on the floor. Jin-Rong reassures the daughters that Chu will still love them. 

Chu’s New Life: In the empty old  house, D2 has prepared as expertly as her father a meal.  D1 and D2 cannot make it and  Jin-Rong is heavily pregnant in the new house. 

The point I tried to make is that Chu’s character as an old man is extremely well drawn by Lee. His narrative is full of twists and turns irony and fun. It has not been easy to disentangle all the characteristics of Chu as a sensitive laconic old Chef. The expertise in his profession, his unconditional love for his daughters, his secret love, the effect of his friend’s death on his decision to retire. To make the puzzle complete,  a similar analysis of the other characters may reveal a detailed and sensitive film that need more than one viewing. 

The film may stand as a moral tale about how in old age men need a young woman, but this is another story . 

Posted in Ageing, Ageism, Ang Lee, care, family, Film Analysis, food, grief, intergenerational relationships, love, murder, women's friendships | Tagged | Leave a comment

CARAMEL (2007)

Caramel 2018 

One of the EON friend (a woman with a Lebanese background)  suggested we viewed Labaki’s Caramel   as ‘feel good’ film for the end of year. 

Given my background (see post 2012 ) I was very surprised by the animated discussion. 

I had showed the film twice before (2012 and 2016) ) to different friends groups. The diverging reactions this time echoed the previous ones but were still more marked : “Depressing, Feminist – Funny, Boring”. While some people looked at the film as portraying women’s repressed life in Beirut, others saw it as a positive representation of women solidarity and friendship across faith cultures.  The discussion focused mainly on the young women. There were some comments about the representation of the dementing old woman. On the whole certain scenes were picked up and discussed but other significant ones  did not get any attention. 

 (see previous posts) 

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EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) film genres…

 

My Father was the centre of the family, and everybody tried to please him. My Mother loves me and everything goes well. I have no conflict whith her, so that’s not dramatic. Ang Lee 

Why was I not offended by the portrayal of a stereotypically unpleasant old woman, mother and grandmother  in  Eat Drink Man Woman?  Why was I not unsettled by a man marrying a woman as young as his daughters?

Viewing the film with a group or reading reviews did not help. No comments addressed the subject or, more seriously the subject of ageing. 

How I would like to have the time to research and analyse this film frame by frame!…But on reflection only a few lines will do. It is Lee’s sense of fun, light touch, empathy and exceptional director’s skill in depicting ageing and family intergenerational differences that made the film so appealing.  With the stuff of classical family melodrama, its violent outbursts and high emotional explosions, Lee constructs a film difficult to categorise. IMDB tries the usual genres: comedy, drama, romance but none singly or as a group, will fit. There is a past emotional trauma, a religious conversion, a pregnant teenager, a lover’s betrayal, the death of a friend, the loss of a paid for new apartment, students’ abuse of a teacher, and  father/daughter conflict.  For me the scenes featuring the old woman were pure farce, a genre I am partial to.  The scene where the little girl takes orders for her mates’  school lunches is also hilarious. I find it impossible to be judgmental in this context. 

The film is the last of Ang Lee’s trilogy called  Father Knows Best – undoubtedly a man’s view point, but a very sensitive, fun and feel-good point of view…. It is constructed like a visual puzzle where small details are very significant and one needs to notice the clues that propel the narrative. The film deserves serious and time-consuming research and analysis that I will leave for the time being. 

 

Posted in Ageing, Ang Lee, classic film, fable, food, grief, love, melodrama, three generations of women, women's friendships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) at EON

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? 

 

 

 

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, death, family, FILM RECEPTION, food, intergenerational relationships, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE WIFE (2017)

I saw The Wife  on the big screen with my partner and a friend (male) the three of us over 80 years old. 

It was remarkable that the three of us had to say something immediately at the end, even before getting up from our seats. The friend said: That was really bad film making, I said: She was amazing but I did not believe in her at all. I was surprised to hear my husband say: It is the first time that I laugh at a death. 

I skimmed the gushing reviews online to find an echo of our disparaging spontaneous responses.  

Rotten Tomatoes gave it 85%, and Metacritic 77% and some reviewers declared that Close deserved an Oscar . But it was comforting to find some critics whose opinions were the same as ours. 

Although the death of the main character was not considered as funny, some critics found a comic element in the film.  Bradshaw writes : In this hugely enjoyable dark comedy (The Guardian). Also Kermode:  In The Wife, an intriguing (if occasionally contrived) tragicomic drama…

Forgetting Close’s performance, the film was justly criticised for its poor cinematography. 

 Slant magazine’s Semerene : …As such, pairing an actress of Close’s caliber with such banal material makes everything that isn’t articulated by Close herself feel like soap-operatic redundancy.

Walter Adding San Francisco Chronicle : It would be wrong to say Closes’s performance in the Wife is wasted, but it certainly deserved a better movie. 

 And from a top French critic: F. Levesque  in Le devoir : Tout du long, Runge recourt à une grammaire cinématographique rudimentaire (« épurée », si l’on se sent charitable). Quoi qu’il en soit, ce qui promettait d’être une sombre méditation psychologique se meut en mélodrame appuyé….Une héroïne de la trempe de Joan méritait plus de panache.

I perceived the film as a bad family melodrama with its conflicts and classical violent outbursts. However I just could not understand why I found Close’s performance so impressive while not believing in her as a likely character.  It is the Scotsman’s Harkness  that gave me a clue: 

The pain and resilience that frequently flashes across her face may be redolent of someone resentful about having to suppress her own ambitions, but there’s an ambiguity there too, suggestive of someone more ruthlessly complicit in her own fate than she’s willing to let on. Here, Close instinctively understands the lingering power of inscrutability, so it’s too bad the film doesn’t. It spells things out that don’t need spelling out and, come the climax, turns the story soapy instead of matching the intelligence of its star.

It is this ambiguity that did not convince me. It is the power of Close’s acting the role of a very strong, capable woman behind a compliant wife that I just did not believe in throughout. It is not that this situation does not occur in real life but neither the narrative, nor the mise-en-scene support this situation. 

I know that the film deserves a closer analysis. After all Joan is a grandmother and the ‘old woman’ was the subject of my blog but the dvd is not yet released and  there are  many films featuring old women that I need to view.  More relevant my free time is shrinking at an alarming rate. 

However Geoffrey Macnab’s review in the Independent (27th september) corresponds exactly to my reading : The Wife demands a giant leap of faith from its audience.  It defies credibility that such a strong-willed figure would ever accept second best as meekly as the film implies  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/the-wife-review-glenn-close-jonathan-pryce-a8556291.html

This difference of interpretation between most top reviewers and some viewers does raise the question of Stuart Hall’s dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings. A study of the reactions to this film of the general public would be extremely interesting.

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, audience responses, critics, family, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THE CLOCK (Christian Marclay) Tate Modern.

I have always argued that using film clips to support an argument is not acceptable to me as I think that a clip outside the context of the whole film may have different, even contradictory  meanings.

What can 24 hours of clips be like?

I delayed experiencing The Clock as I feared the long queues (see previous post). We chanced it yesterday at 11am. No queues and such an experience. We stayed two hours in very confortable sofas and would have stayed all day if hunger did not intervene. By then the queue started to form.

Two hours of clips. It was fascinating. I could not resist checking my watch from time to time to ground the experience. Apart from recognising some films, naming some actors, laughing, feeling the tensions of a narrative, I was transported in a world between fiction and reality, wanting to know more about the effect of this extraordinary exploration of the cinematic effects..

I have had no time to read about this wonderful use of film clips but would urge you to go to the Tate this autumn.

 

Posted in audience responses, film clips, FILM RECEPTION | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CINEMAS, FILMS AND AGEING

Cinema, Films and Ageing.

I have been running old women film groups for the last twenty years and blogging about the representation of the old woman in feature films for the last ten years.

My relationship with cinemas, film, film groups and writing needs to be adjusted to my circumstances but also to the general changes in the film world.

I seem to have less and less time to enjoy analysing films frame by frame and commenting on their ageism or lack of. I cannot grasp really what is happening to time. It races so quickly that I cannot write one sensible paragraph in what turns out to be a whole morning. On the other hand hours go so slowly when my brain is in rest mode.

My hearing and sight are deteriorating in spite of the advance technology of aids. Helas, in general, accessibility in cinemas is not ideal and subtitles sessions few and far between. What are called Art films – my favourite genre – are shown in tiny cinemas not bigger than my sitting room and less comfortable – not worth travelling in London polluted air.

The good news. There is more interest in old women in films : https://www.facebook.com/wo50ff/

Film groups and clubs in different forms and venues are flourishing.
Although ageism is still rife, one hears old women voices more often.

I cannot keep up with the generally released films featuring old actors. I run a monthly film session at EON : Ealing Over 60s Network. It is very well attended and not women only. I do declare that my speciality is the representation of old women in films and I try to document the very interesting discussions. It is the last session of the term that I decided to change the focus of this blog.

A member told me that the Ealing Classic Cinema Club had shown Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands. A non-British born like me she thought I would I would appreciate the portrayal of the conflict of two cultures that she found very accurate.

I saw the film and found it lacking in rigour. While the old man Tai Chi master’s role was well portrayed, the incidents of conflict were repetitive. I found the role of young woman writer somehow superficial and unsympathetic.

But this led me to Ang Lee’s following films: The Wedding Banquet and eat drink man woman that I Hope to blog about soon.

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, classic, family, food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment