Wood, Stone, Desire, and Encumbrance:
the House that Mr. Chu Built
Andrew D. Twiggs
| This movie was deeper than I expected from the first few moments that
I had experienced. I immediately was intrigued by the atmosphere that the
house created along with the people in it. This is the house that Mr. Chu
built a symbolism for the hindrance to the lives of the characters in some
aspect. This house that he had was made for a family. The family at one
point in time consisted of his daughters and his wife (whom dies, thus we
do not have the privilege of meeting her). This house is a manifestation
of the way that everyone feels about the loss of the mother. There always
seems to be a missing piece that the family attempts to stay around and
fill the void in the house in their own way. The father feels hollow, thus
the house is not a home. This house is a place where everyone comes to lay
their head and have extravagant dinners.
There are various reasons why I believe the house is a representation of everyone's desires being hindered. Thus the Title distinctly fits the thesis. Wood is metaphor for something that burns, being the desire that one has. Stone being hard and cold is the metaphor for the hindrances that disable the characters from really doing or becoming who they want to be. The house is a potent manifestation of limitation. All the daughters were repressing some partition of themselves by being in the house I believe because they felt as if their father could not take anymore substantial losses after their mother died; only to wait until their bodies could no longer take having to suppress the desire that they were having as women and abruptly depart from the house. In the case of the youngest sister Jia Ning, only twenty years old met a person that she fell in love with and left the house when she told everyone that she was pregnant. This desire that she had could no longer repressed thus she would not be able to dwell in the house. The same repressive attitude within the house is also prevalent in the life of the oldest sister Jia Zhen. Jia Zhen's repressive acts were for many reasons. The biggest was her affinity towards her religion and the second, was due to her competition with her sister Jia Quian with who was going to be the old maid or the last person to stay at the house to take care of their father. At one point they were having a small argument about that very notion. The only thing that bothers me is the lie that she told her family about having a broken heart from a person that didn't even know her. Within the dwelling she was limiting her self to manifest fictional relationships when all the while she was just too scared to put herself out there to be the object of someone's affection. The one time that the affection was initiated by someone else, it was a practical joke harshly played upon her by the students that she was teaching in her classroom. That desire was all bottled up until one day Jia Zhen decided to ��let it all hang out�� and came to the school dressed really sassy, adorned with pressed hair and red lipstick, confident and ready for love. When the person she hoped was the admirer (Min Dao) came to the class to console her, she could not help herself any longer and she jumped all over him. That repression could no longer be contained by the house or her all love for her religion (except for sex). She had gotten married that same day to remedy the sexual situation and left on his (Min Dao's) motorcycle to begin a new life.
The major person with repressed sexual issues is the main character, Mr. Chu. This man has been repressing his sexual desires for sixteen years since the untimely death of this wife who is unnamed. I believe that he has been with Jin-Rong for some time being at the beginning of the film he was bringing the little girl (Shan-Shan) lunch to school in attempts to get in good with her young mother (Jin-Rong). The house was a representation of him being stuck in the past. Thus, at the end of the film when they were all at the dinner table and he announced that he would like to have Jin-Rong's hand in marriage then announcing that he will be selling the house is the manifestation home as a barrier to change breaking down. This forces everyone to rethink the way that they have lived their life, scared to move on and risk taking anymore losses. Mr. Chu is prepared for that change, he is prepared to start a new in which he knows that if he stays in that home all the barriers to growth and to change will remain. Thus, the encumbrance is no more when he decides to have a baby with Jin-Rong and in turn allowing everyone else to achieve their desires and shed the cocoon of the house to fly away and create there new individual lives. We see a realization of this notion of shedding the cocoon of the house at the end of the film where Jia Qian is cooking a meal in the kitchen where she was never allowed to go in as long as her father lived and breathed. The life altering circumstances that engulfed the characters the sisters especially are colossal. Particularly having a step mother that was about their same age or younger. But no one has the right to say that unexpected change was never good. We often learn lessons from attempting to achieve our desires and failing. But if we fail to even attempt, how would we ever learn anything? Thus, the house that Chu built will be embedded in the minds of the daughters of Mr. Chu. They will emerge from those hindrances and return as women.
The Family That Eats Together Stays Together
| The communal eating experience has long been central to building and
maintaining ties within families and communities. In Eat Drink Man Woman
director Ang Lee has tapped into the tradition of communal eating to create
a film that is both passable as a narrative and visually stupendous. The
best parts of this film are the scenes where Old Chu is preparing food in
his kitchen. The process of preparing Chinese cuisine is exotic to western
viewers and in the hands of Chu it becomes ritualistic. The beauty and mystery
of the cooking process draws viewers into this film from the very first
Food preparation in this movie provides not only a colorful visual background but also an important vehicle for driving the plot. Every time the family sits down to dinner an important plot point is revealed. Some one always has an "announcement to make". First Jia-Chen announces that she is moving out. Next Jia-Ning announces that she is pregnant. At the final dinner scene near the end of the film the rug is pulled out when Chu announces that he is going to marry Jin-Rong his daughters' childhood friend who is about half his age, and that he is selling the families ancestral home.
Throughout the film the various characters undergo major changes. One of the most notable changes is Jia-Chien's attitude towards the Sunday dinner ritual and life in her family home in general. At the beginning of the film Jia-Chien refers to the weekly family gatherings as "the sunday dinner torture" but by the end of the film it is Jia-Chien who is keeping the Sunday dinners going. Jia-Chien's first dinner announcement is that she will be moving out shortly into a modern apartment complex that is being constructed near by. Jia-Chien says that she has to get out and be independent and especially get away from her father. However at the end of the film it is Jia-Chien who purchases the old house from her father.
The point that this film drives home most powerfully is the importance of traditional values as a haven in modern China. In this film tradition is represented by Chu's Chinese cooking. Thematically an important visual occurs early in the film when it cut straight from Chu's masterful almost reverent preparation of the Sunday dinner to the fast food restaurant where Jia-Ning works. The contrast is shocking. Where Chu prepared his food quietly in a peaceful environment, the fast food restaurant is overrun with screaming customers. This film emphasizes the fact that even in the modern world it is important that places like Chu's kitchen continue to exist, that arts like Chinese cuisine are not lost and most importantly that families continue to eat together.
The Recipe of Love
|" Eat, Drink, Man, Woman,��by Ang Lee, is the story of a family (a
father and his three daughters) dealing with the disruptive issues of love,
sex, generation gaps, and miscommunication. The movie revolves around the
house and restaurant of Mr. Chu, a widower with three grown daughters who
(despite being a cook) has ironically lost his ability to taste. Mr. Chu's
three daughters, Jia-Zhen, Jia-Qian, and Jia-Ning, are blossoming women,
discovering their sexual and emotional destinies. While the film deals with
a great many issues concerning family life, it is the ideas about sexuality,
love, and desire that most intrigue me as a viewer. With food serving as
the core metaphor for human nature, the viewer is shown a world in which
all characters are on a quest for the perfect recipe for love.
As Mencius, a Confucian Chinese philosopher said, ��It is human nature to want food and sex.�� It is this very assertion that plagues the characters of Ang Lee's film. The Eldest daughter, Jia-Zhen, is a pious Christian who is compelled to deny herself sexual pleasure along with life's other, ��sinful�� or ��gluttonous�� temptations. Vowing to stay forever a spinster and never to leave her fathers house, Jia-Zhen is confronted with her own sensuality when she falls in love with Min Dao. With the acceptance of her ��human nature�� and her long-repressed sexuality, Jia-Zhen is able to finally prepare and eat from the banquet of love. Uniting her emotions with her basic human desires allows for her marriage and the leaving of her father's home.
Likewise, old Mr. Chu is forced to confront his own stagnated sexuality when he proposes to young Jin-rong. Though he completely lost his ability to taste, with his marriage to Jin-rong, his sense of flavor miraculously returns to him. With his sense of taste exemplifying the return of his sexuality, Mr. Chu as a character serves as the vessel for a main point of the film, namely, the significance of love and sexuality in respect to happiness. To deny your own sensuality because of cultural or self-imposed restrictions is exactly what Ang Lee��s film is condemning. To find the true ��recipe of love�� one must allow oneself to want, to need, to desire. ..and to eat of that desire. Only once you do that will you truly taste life. Where food once tasted like ashes, it will taste like sugars and sweets. Indeed, it is a very reassuring assessment of sexuality that Ang Lee brings forth with the declaration, ��Eat, Drink, Man, Woman!��
From Lonely to Love
|In Eat Drink Man Woman, the film centers around the interaction between
the widower, Chef Chuu, and his three daughters Jia-Zhen, Jia-Qian, and
Jia-Ning and the relationships that they are involved in. The first images
of this film are of Chef Chuu cooking an elaborate meal, painstakingly working
to make a delicious meal. The movie then transports to clips of the three
daughters on their way back to the house for dinner. The oldest daughter
Jia-Zhen appears introverted, focused on her classical music, and refusing
to acknowledge a desire for a man in her life. Jia-Qian is displayed as
hostile toward the idea of a "stupid" Sunday dinner with her father
and sisters. Instead, she seems more focused on her physical relationship
that has no strings attached. Finally, Jia-Ning makes her way back to the
house from her job at Wendy's, where she seems partly restricted by having
to go to dinner, but interested in the boy who waits outside for her friend.
The similarities between all four in the family at the beginning is that none are involved in a serious relationship. Jia-Qian's purely sexual relationship represents the closest to a partner that any of them have. The rest are involved solely in the family's life, even if they resent it. Jia-Zhen hides her disappointment in her ability to have a boyfriend by making up a story about a past love in college that has left her jaded. Zhen stays away from men for fear of rejection, rather than an injury from a past love. Jia-Qian's attitude towards relationships seems playful and selfish. They are not useful for her if they are a matter of feelings and emotions, but carnal pleasures only. Jia-Ning, as the youngest, seems just beginning to foray into the world of men. She is just dabbling as she flirts with Guo Lun, who is dating her friend. Finally, Chef Chu's only passion is cooking. His lack of passion is manifested in the loss of taste, so that he cannot even savor the delights that he makes.
While each family member's loneliness seems to be in an semi-permanent state, they all change with frightening quickness. Jia-Ning enjoys the sudden closeness she feels toward Guo Lun and throws herself into a relationship. She leaves the lack of love found in her family, and quickly becomes pregnant. The youngest changes the attitude of the family by her act of rebellion. She breaks the mold which the family has cast itself in, and the others follow her lead. Jia-Zhen finds the courage to confront a secret admirer who continues to write her love letters. Zhen claims the love that she has been denying, and though the letters turn out to be a prank by her students, she too throws herself at the one she wants. She brazenly confesses her love for the volleyball coach, Min Dao. This turns into a shotgun wedding, as Min Dao and Jia-Zhen quickly marry.
Finally, with the sudden relationships of two of his daughters, Chef Chu allows himself to pursue his love, the young single mother Jin-Rong. His passion was handcuffed by the hopelessness of his daughters, but with two of them departing, Chu is allowed to go after his hidden passion of parenting. As his daughters are too old and independent for him, Chu gets a new family, a new passion in the arms of Jin-Rong. His taste returns as Chu is finally allowed to show his love. The lack of passion for the first half of the movie is obliterated by the new relationships, which give the family new life.
|The film Eat Drink Man Woman, directed by Ang Lee, told the story of a
master chef named Old Chu and his three daughters. Despite the youngest
of his daughters being twenty years old, all three still live in Chu's house.
He feels as though he must protect and provide for them in the same way
that he did when they were children. The daughters however have their own
lives to live and want to move on, but are concerned about their father,
as he is becoming older. Jia Zhen is the oldest daughter and a devout Christian.
She is a school teacher at an all boys academy. Jia Quan is the second daughter
and a very successful business woman. She has always wanted to be a chef
like her father, but Old Chu would not allow this, and instead made her
further her education. Jia Ning is the youngest of the three and also the
least ambitious. She works at a fast food restaurant.
From the beginning of the film, the viewer can see that the three sisters all want to move on with their lives, but are concerned about their father's health. Old Chu on the other hand has already lost his wife, and in many ways does not want to let go of his daughters. Old Chu wants to keep everyone in his house, which has been in the family for generations. The house however, is what is keeping the three daughters from spreading their wings. Even though comfort can be found in this place, it is also holding them back from stepping out in the world and pursuing their own lives. This is apparent in the scene in which Jia Quan tells the rest of the family that she is moving out of the house. Her sisters seem to be very happy for her. Chu however seems very angry; he does not want his daughter to leave his home.
Despite Chu's fear of change, each of the main characters�� lives begin to change drastically and in ironic fashion. Jia Ning, who works at the fast food joint, ends up falling in love with her best friend's boyfriend, who she has been playing hard to get with. She leaves old Chu's house and moves in with the boyfriend, and they all learn that she has become pregnant. Jia Zhen, the school teacher, falls in love with Zhou Mingda, a new volleyball coach at the school. The two begin to move quickly and Mingda wants to have sex. Jia Zhen, stating that she is a Christian, tells him that she cannot have sex until she is married, so the couple gets married the next day. Jia Qian decides that she will no longer be in some of the relationships that she had been involved in previously, and at the end of the film, finally becomes a chef, which is what she really wanted in the first place. Old Chu's life becomes the most ironic of all. Despite his relationship with Mrs. Liang, Chu actually falls in love with her daughter Jin Rong, who is much younger than him. The two decide that they will be married, and at the end of the film, Jin Rong is also pregnant. Old Chu decides that he will sell his house and move on, despite saying that he would never leave it towards the start of the film.
This film was filled with ironic moments, and I think that these ironies stem from the main characters repressing their true desires. The house in this case served as a repressive force, which stifled not only communication within Chu's family, but also kept each character from living the life that they wanted to live. In the end, each character had to depart from the house in order to ��spread their wings and fly,�� including Old Chu.
Food Is the Way to the Heart
|Ang Lee makes a point of showing the relationship between fulfilling the
desires for food and sex, and on a lighter note, moving on in the ��real��
world. Every character in the movie has a specific approach towards food;
through this approach it is possible to gauge their reactions towards sex.
For example, Jia Zhen, she is the oldest of the three. It is noted that
she is a mother figure. She has willingly given up a carnal life in order
to help raise her two sisters, maybe also because she feels that as the
oldest she is the one that should stay with her father (a widower). Throughout
the beginning of the movie we get several glimpses of Jia Zhen's repressed
sexuality (the incident with the cats copulating, the karaoke singers, her
prudish demeanor, etc.). On the other hand Jia Ning is a young and innocent
woman. She has a girlish charm and a naivet�� that in the end lands her a
husband. Then we come to Jai Qian, the middle daughter, and seemingly, actively
conscious of her desires as a woman, successful, entrepreneurial, open view
towards the world, etc. During the second family Sunday dinner we get a
view of all three of these attitudes, specifically geared around food. Jia
Ning (innocent) begins to giggle and stares at her dish and comments on
how Mr. Chu forgot to make the shrimp sauce, Jia Qian (bold) simply states
with disdain that their father has become senile, and Jia Zhen (she simply
doesn't talk about it; much like sex) tells them both to be quiet and not
to say anything.
The underlying theme around all of this though proves to be more important (in my opinion): moving on. The story told above is a simple and serves to express a point. The father and his three daughters have been living without a mom for at least some 18 years. They have all learned to fill in the gap and absence of their mother, the father to assuage the pain of, at the time conscious, older daughters and the older daughters to give the youngest one a mother. In a way they were a highly functional dysfunctional family, they did not now how to disband. Under normal circumstances the mother would remain taking care of the father but there was none to do that job. The older daughters knew that as good children they had to remain and care for their father, reason neither of them took relationships seriously. On an unconscious level the father realizes this when his youngest daughter leaves, the only unattached one made run for it at the first sign. Mr. Chu understands that he is the problem, the one that isn't moving on; he continues to treat his daughters as children. It is at this moment we see a decline in the quality of the food Mr. Chu prepares for the Sunday dinners, almost forcing his daughters to supplement the now lacking flavor of the food with some other spice (sex, relationship). Then, ultimately, Mr. Chu decides to sell his house, almost evicting his remaining daughter (then only one with a life of her own though).
It would seem that it was the daughters that were unable to move on and had to be forced to leave, but it becomes clear at the end that Mr. Chu had very devoted daughters (Confucian morals). It all comes down to the last scene (conveniently no one was able to make it to the dinner except Mr. Chu), the perfect chance for both to share a final moment. Mr. Chu goes to taste the soup and comments that it is simply to spicy, to which Jia Qian replies it was her mothers recipe and that she remembered he always had that complaint about her soup. They say, scents and flavors trigger memories and that is exactly what happened to Mr. Chu. Through his daughter he was able to recall love and thus his love for life.
Bound By Food
|In the film Eat Drink Man Woman food plays a very important role. From
the opening scene to the final scene, food makes the movie what it is. Mr.
Chu, the chef in the family, in the beginning of the movie loses his taste.
Even though he lost his taste, Mr. Chu, an accomplished chef, cooks weekly
meals for his three daughters. These meals are no mere two-dish meals, but
rather a meal with seven different dishes. What is more interesting than
the number of dishes in his meals is the way in which the food brings people
In the film, food acts as bonding agent. Food is what brings the family together each week. The father's cooking throughout the movie acted as bonding agent. Even when Mr. Chu brings a school lunch for the little girl, the food brings the class together, whether or not it was because they wanted to mooch off some the food. As the plot develops, and each of the daughters leaves their father's house, the idea of community and family disappears. After the different families are formed with the addition of husbands and children, it is the food of Mr. Chu that brings them back together.
As the food is acting as a bonding agent, food also creates a time where the family can converse and tell of their day's story. On the abstract level the story represents how people can come together and form a community. If you visualize what a market looks like, there are many people coming together to buy things, and the one thing that has bound these people together is food. I think this film also touches on the aspect of how important family meals are. With different aspects of modernity affecting different parts of China today, the idea of full sit down family meal is sometimes out of the question. With modernity in China today, ideas about community are falling away because the fast paced life style is taking over. Every aspect of the day is sped up and there is no time to relax and enjoy the moment, this is seen with conflict of fast food as compared with the food that Mr. Chu creates. The food that takes more time to prepare is the food that will bring closer together and will create the bond. This bond is something that can link people that have absolutely no connections with each other.
Love Lost and Found In Unexpected Places
|��Eat Drink Man Woman,�� directed by Ang Lee is a story of love lost and
love found. However, when love is found it is found in rather unexpected
places. This theme is prevalent throughout the film, and there are many
great examples which illustrate this point.
One interesting example is of Jia Ning, Mr. Chu's youngest daughter. Her best friend and her the boyfriend of that friend, are always fighting. Soon enough Jia Ning becomes the boy's girlfriend, and almost suddenly she is pregnant and moving in with him. In this particular example the best friend has lost love, and is remorseful because she actually loved her boyfriend and wanted so badly to still be with him. Yet, her loss is Jia Ning's gain because she has found love. Typically girls do not date their best friend's ex-boyfriends (or even if they do it does not usually happen so quickly), so this is an example of love found in a strange place.
Mr. Chu himself experiences this same theme. Mr Chu is losing love because his daughters are growing older and moving away from the house. Luckily for Mr. Chu he is able to find new love. He begins making meals and taking them to Shan Shan, his neighbor's, daughter at school. Mr. Chu enjoys doing this very much and this experience makes him happy. Yet, Mr. Chu will still find more love. At the end of the film he marrys Jin Rong, the mother of Shan Shan, a woman much younger than him. Certainly this is an example of love found in a strange place. A marriage between an older man and a younger woman is rather uncommon, so Mr. Chu is a great example of the theme of love lost, and love found in strange places.
| Eat, Drink, Man, Woman by Ang Lee was a movie about the relationships
between Old Chu and his daughters and it was also about their individual
relationships outside of their home. This movie displays the effects of
family dynamics on those that are apart of the family. I like the illustration
of the house that we discussed in class. I too believe that the house was
a representation, but instead of the house representing stagnation and hindrance
of growth, I will discuss the house as being a representation of a certain
type of family value.
Old Chu and his three daughters, Jia Zhen, Jia Qian, and Jia Ning, all live together. His wife has died and they feel responsible for staying with him and taking care of him to a certain extent. This prevents them from having any change in their love lives. They desire change, but in their environment, it is almost impossible. They cannot both take care of their father and then still have time to have their own love relationships. The house, to me, represented the family relationship and family values. I thought it was interesting that while all of them were in this house, they were unable to keep up any serious relationships outside of the house. The strong manifestation of the house not only affected the Old Chu and his girls, but it also affected some of the other characters that came into it. Mrs. Liang, Jin Rong, and Jin Rong's daughter Shan Shan were all affected as well. They spent a lot of time in the Chu house as well and were all ��stuck in a rut,�� so to speak, in the outside relationships. They too lacked the ability to change their relationships.
We see as viewers that changes start happening for those that leave the house. Jia Zhen and Jia Ning both find men to marry and do so. Jia Ning even gets pregnant, which is what causes her to move out in the first place. I thought it was interesting that she moved out as soon as she had gotten pregnant. It was almost like the values of the house would not allow her sort of actions. There was a strong conflict between her actions and the house and she could no longer be in the house. It was much the same with Jia Zhen. Her and her husband could not wait to have sex, so they got married very suddenly and Jia Zhen moved out. Again, her actions conflicted with the house, and she could no longer stay either. Old Chu moves out as well. He and Jin Rong had been having a secretive relationship and before he makes it public to the whole family, he makes sure that he mentions that he will sell the house and move. He wanted a new start and the house represented too much of what his old life had meant, so he had to sell it. He would go on to start his own family, but the family value of the house would not accept his wish for a new relationship, hence the need for him to sell it.
Jia Qian is the only person that stays in the house. Her whole situation was different than the others�� though. She was the most successful financially, but she had lost her sense of values all together. She was sleeping with a few different men, even at work. It was almost like she had forgotten her values. She was living in the house, but was not happy while she was at home at all. Her choices were in conflict with what the house represented and I think this is why she was so unhappy. In the end, she returns to her values and stays living in the house. She makes a change in her life by leaving her job, discontinuing her relationships with the men that had caused her to lose her values in the first place, and becoming a cook just like her father had been. Had she not made this change and stayed in the house, she would not have been able to do this. Her case is what made me think that the house represented this certain type of family value rather than stagnation. In her case, staying in the house was good because it helped her regain values that she had left for a while.