Rachel Leow reviews Dear China by Gregor Benton and Hong Liu
In the opening scene of Ang Lee’s 1994 movie Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女), a silent father caresses a banquet into being. Moving amidst bubbling soups, smoking oils and steaming baskets, he lavishes upon the array of dishes a tenderness he will go the whole movie without once matching in words. The diners to whom this feast is borne – his three daughters – meet it with a different quality of silence: blank looks, tinged with boredom, even exasperation. They sit to eat. Conversation stutters. Family news is stiffly exchanged: wretched, half-spoken words. Dinner is cut short by a phone call, an abrupt exit. At any rate it had been criticized – “father, the ham is over-smoked.” We learn only later of the daughters’ fears for their father’s deteriorating health, marked by his declining sense of taste – fears that ran so deep that they could hardly be spoken at all.
This scene captures an emotional core to what many would recognize instantly as Chinese family life.