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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Eat a Bowl of Tea
Eat a Bowl of Tea
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // June 3, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted June 1, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Immigration problems have been with us ever since we became a country that people wanted to visit-some Indians would say even before that. The laws that our government sets up for legal immigration have changed with the political tides and the movie, Eat A Bowl Of Tea, addresses a situation that Chinese immigrants had from the 1920's until some reforms took place in the late 1940's. The laws in question prevented Chinese women from staying here and it split apart a number of families over the years.

The movie is set in 1947 after the end of WWII. A young military man, Ben, has finished his hitch in the services and moves back to New York's China Town in a small apt his father set him up with. The big talk in town is that the reformed laws will allow Ben to go to China and meet a proper Chinese woman who'll bear him lots of children. Ben's mom is still in China, a victim of the previous laws, and greets him with the hope of setting him up with someone special. Luckily, it's love at first sight for both members of the match (Ben and Mei) and they move to New York. As a married man, the local Chinese businessmen, all friends of the family, set Ben up as the manager of a restaurant in order to provide for his wife (and future children). Everyone fully expects a lot of children since there are none in the neighborhood. With all the pressure on him, will Ben be able to fulfill his father's dreams becomes the big question.

Okay, I liked the little touches that Director Wayne Wang puts into the movie. The look on Mei's face when she explores the ratty apt kitchen, particularly with things like running water, were dead on. Her later evolution into a more Americanized gal with demands of her own showed some true character development too. Wang's direction started to falter about half way through the movie and all his little touches weren't enough to save what quickly became a movie mired in routine melodrama.

The premise of the entire film started making me wonder why a Chinatown full of bachelors, using the same new laws that help Ben get a wife, didn't retrieve their own wives from the home country. They're shown to care about the women, routinely sending gifts and money to support them, but something was left out. Maybe the laws in question only applied to new marriages or maybe the men didn't want the women to move over here but we never find out. Had that been a minor issue, I'd have been able to let it go but it wasn't, given the focus of the movie.

The other problem I had was how quickly the movie tied up the loose ends after what was a fairly weak exposition of the initial promise the movie showed. When it got bogged down in the day to day troubles of married life, it was lacking in the fun and inventiveness Wang displayed and that made it less bearable. A good start with a strong premise and then it's all downhill from there. That makes this a one to Skip unless you're willing to suffer through a lot of clich├ęs with little real attention to the cultural differences between an Americanized Chinese man and a old world Chinese woman.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen. It generally looked very clear although there was some minor shimmering at the top of the screen during the first part of the movie (a bit like a mistracked videotape). The flesh tones looked good and the blacks were solid black in most parts of the movie. All other issues were minor.

Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital stereo and sounded clear with plenty of detail. The vocals and music were both well represented here although there wasn't a lot of stereo separation between the channels. You could pick from English or French subtitles but the dominant language used was English (and the occasional Mandarin during some of the Chinese speaking scenes). Yeah, even this seemed forced in the sense that old Chinese men, hanging out with one another would usually be speaking English rather than their native language.

Extras: A few trailers-that's it.

Final Thoughts: I liked the idea and think a modern update with a Mexican family might be in order. I just wish the movie that started out so well could've kept up the initial pace and creativity but sadly, that wasn't the case. Skip this one unless you have a high tolerance for cultural faux pas by a director that should've known better.

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