Food and Film: Eat Drink Man Woman

March 24th, 2011

Food and Film: Eat Drink Man Woman

“Eat, drink, man, woman. Basic human desires. Can’t avoid them. All my life, that’s all I’ve ever done. It pisses me off. Is that all there is to life?”

Eat Drink Man Woman is a Taiwanese language film and one of my favorite “food flicks” made by Ang Lee (Hulk, Brokeback Mountain) earlier in his career. The movie is loaded with food sights and sounds so vivid you can almost taste what’s on screen. It’s a film for food people; the first five minutes alone will inspire you to get into the kitchen.

The story centers around Chu, a professional chef who is, ironically, losing his taste buds and relies on an assistant at work to tell him how good his cooking is. The film takes place largely at Chu’s home where he prepares his infamous Sunday dinner each week. At the insistence of Chu, his three daughters sit down with him each week to a meal they secretly refer to as “Sunday torture.” All three of the daughters are beginning to have complicated lives of their own and living at home is becoming more and more of a problem.

Eat Drink Man Woman explores family, love, hope, loss and redemption. There’s meat here, and the food is just the beginning.

Chu has suffered a great loss already (his wife), and is suffering another (his loss of taste), but his greatest fear becomes evident when each of his daughters meet new men, fall in love, and threaten to leave the household. Anger and drama predictably results, but there is a deep and stirring love between family members that is evident in every interaction. There is so much unsaid, yet loud and clear.

These dreaded Sunday meals are essential to Chu; he communicates with his daughters only through preparing and eating food – the one tool he still feels comfortable with. He has come to a point where he cannot express himself in any other way. It is up to his three daughters (one in love, one who has lost love, and one who has never loved) to decide how to handle their lives and their father as time moves on.

The quality of the film should be immediately evident in the introduction (which you can watch above). Great attention has been paid to detail everywhere. The timing of the action on screen and sound is impeccable. Chu keeps his knives hung in a stunning formation on the kitchen wall. He keeps his fish a certain way, raises his own chickens, holds his cleaver a certain way, chops a certain way, moves a certain way; there are little things everywhere that add to the personality of the characters.

The film would not be nearly as good without the many entertaining and comical moments involving Chu and his daughters, many of which escape me now but I will have to re-watch soon and enjoy. What’s important to me is that, while amusing us, Lee also answers the question of meaning and life with skill and subtlety. It’s a beautiful film that will open your eyes and make you think. It will also make you hungry for dumplings and peking duck. What’s better than that?

Eat Drink Man Woman was remade in 2001 as another food film I hope to watch some day, Tortilla Soup.

Have you seen this film? What did you like about it?

Food and Film: Eat Drink Man Woman
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“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
~ Julia Child