Eat Drink Man Woman & The Ice Storm: the In-between Culture

Yuezhong Zheng(郑悦中)&  Yingqi She (佘颖绮)

  • A short video made by Yingqi(Sarah) to introduce herself and her college

  1st Conversation


  •   We are the “In-between” viewers: how we chose the films?

Yingqi and I are both from China, so we both  have more understanding of our own culture. I was born and raised in china, and was largely shaped by the ideology. Then I came to US to study American culture and have been influenced gradually by the western values.  Yingqi has been majoring English for two years. For her, western culture is not an unfamiliar thing. More and more people in China nowadays, especially young people, are largely exposed and influenced by American culture. Thus, we become the “in-between” viewers.  As the cultural learner between East and West, sometimes I am confused about my own cultural identity and wondering where I belong. So Yingqi and I both want to choose the films that could help us understand American society better and reflect on our own culture.

family films2Yingqi suggested that she watched Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee last semester as her English Professor suggested. It depicts the family drama in modern Taiwan.  Then we discussed the possible American films that we can choose. We used, a Chinese website mostly like IMDB but it’s in Chinese where we can find the list of films that we may want by entering the keywords. For example, if you want to watch a science fiction, you can just click on the tag”science fiction.” If you want to find American science fictions, you can click on the two tags  “America” and “science fiction.” Then all the films belong to this category will appear on the screen. So we type in “America” and “family.” Here are some of the films that first appeared according to the rating: Forrest Gump, Up,and the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  When I scrolled down I found the Ice Storm and it was also directed by Ang Lee. We thought it would be interesting to watch and analyze two films, directed by the same director, that  talk about two opposite cultures.



Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) 《饮食男女》                              The Ice Storm (1997) 《冰风暴》

(*note: click on the Chinese subtitles will lead you to a Chinese film website)

220px-Eat_Drink_Man_Woman                                           The-Ice-Storm poster



  • Ang Lee: the “in-between” director     

“I don’t know where I am, but I never know where I am. I was born in China, then my parents moved to Taiwan, where we were outsiders, then to the States, then back to China, then back here. I trust the elusive world created by movies more than anything else. I live in the other side of the screen.” –Ang Lee

Ang Lee: the in-between director

Born in 1954 in Taiwan, Ang Lee, the only recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director who is not Caucasian, has become one of the greatest filmmakers today. His films ranged from Taiwanese box office hits to English literature classics and Hollywood blockbusters. His films have dramatized family drama, comedy, epic martial arts action, romance, and even superheroes.  He presents Chinese-themed films to global audiences, while “confucianizing” Hollywood with moral codes.

Ang Lee’s was originally from mainland China, but he was raised in Taiwan, later studied in U.S and back in Taiwan again. He is shaped by both Chinese values and western notions. The blurring of his homeland makes him feel comfortable to redefine Chinese values and break the tradition.  Just like himself belongs to nowhere, his characters do not fit in any certain categories, such as the “stereotyped Chinese” or the “classic Hollywood figures.” He is the  “in-between” director who creates new and excited dishes out of tried and tested traditional recipes.


  • Synopsis

Eat Drink Man Woman, released in 1994, tells a story of the disintegration of a Chinese family in modern, high-rise Taipei.  The widower Mr Chu and his three daughters breaks through the moral codes and finally achieve their desired lives by overthrowing the stereotyped “father figure” and the conventional “Chinese family.”

The Ice Storm, from 1997, chronicles a brief period of rapid moral deterioration in the 1970s American Suburbs, as the characters from two families, the Hoods and the Carvers, shatter their social “roles” in pursuit of their personal satisfactions, and come to terms with their self-discovery after the bleak ice storm.

Unlike in Eat Drink Man Woman, where problem arise due to the obsessive conformity of the period and culture,  while in The Ice Storm, the characters’ problems are caused by being too rebellious and too liberated.

Both films deal with family dramas where everyone try to break out of the social norms and to shed  the shackles of conformity.  Before we started to watch the films, we speculated the possible endings by watching  trailers. We thought the family in Eat Drink Man Woman will eventually integrate due to the traditional Chinese social restriction, and the family in The Ice Storm will disintegrate due to the world around them where morality has collapsed. While the endings are surprising for both of us.

In Eat Drink Man Woman, two daughters leave home to pursuit their own happiness and the father, fails to be the center of the family, finds his own loved one. The independence and individualism, the typical western notions,  have been added to this Chinese family drama.

In The Ice Storm, the chasms within families are brought together through the death of Mikey. Both families are reunited in the tragedy and, as the ice thaws, real emotions are revealed. Mickey’s death that draws people out of their individual self-woven cocoons and reunites them as families. The Chinese value “团圆”(tuan‘yuan-Reunion)is brought up by Ang Lee at the end.


  •  The Larger Social Context for Cross-Cultural Understanding

“ The new Taipei and America in the 70s”

The larger social background behind each films are well-set and presented for global audience to better understand each other’s social contexts and cultural implication.

EDMW-opening scene

the modern Taipei

Eat Dink Man Woman sets its scene at the new Taipei, where the city is modernizing at a fast pace. Taiwan shares a large part of traditional Chines culture, in which father is the center of a family and women are supposed to be domestic and docile.



the water gate

Watergate Scandal showed in the film


While The Ice Storm in a snapshot of the disintegration of the American Suburbs. In 1973 the Nixon Watergate scandal is at its peak and its consumerism is at an all-time high in the USA. It’s about what it takes to live in a world where morality had collapsed.




  • Food as a way to represent culture

Food is a very important way to represent the culture. Ang Lee uses food and the preparation of food as ways to unfold the plots in both stories. Both films have the scene where family dinner is taking place.

thanksgiving dinner

Food in the West (the Ice Storm)

The Ice Storm is set over Thanksgiving weekend. As Elena and Ben prepares the traditional meal, they cannot admit that their marriage is not a traditional one and maintain this pretense. The preparations are all last minute-turkey is still frozen and they have to defrost it by holding it under the hot tap. During the Thanksgiving dinner, Ben, unaware that Wendy is no longer a child, asks her to say a short grace. Instead, she inflicts a political diatribe on them about the brutalization of the American Indians. The awkwardness pervades the whole dinner.

In Eat Drink Man Woman, food preparation is a central metaphor in this film. The father is unable to express his love for his daughters at home, so he insists on preparing a big banquet for his family every Sunday as the only way to show his love. Food has become a way for the father to carry his love.

edmw-last dinner

Food is something shared

Chinese food here also serves as a way for cross-cultural understanding. This film was released internationally at that time, so the western audiences are able to savor the “feast” that presented by Ang Lee. The beginning scene shows Chef Chu bustling in the kitchen with the lively Chinese traditional music going on. He prepares fish and frogs with surgical precision. The proficiency of killing, disembowelment, dismembering and slicing shows that Chef Chu embodies an image of Chinese tradition.

The screen writer James Schamus mentioned that, food in Chinese culture has become an unbelievable rich vein for study, for celebration for dissection and mystery. In china,  dinner is much more focused as a social event, and food is something that is shared as opposed to typically at west, “this is mine and that’s yours.” Eat Drink Man Women presents varies kinds of Chinese food for the global audiences.


  • “食的艺术–The Art of Chinese Food” written by Yingqi 


中国古话言:民以食为天(Food is the paramount  necessity of the people),可见饮食在中国人心中的地位。中国的有着深厚的饮食文化很大程度上是由于中国悠久的农耕历史。中国幅员辽阔,地大物博,各地气候、物产、风俗习惯都存在着差异,长期以来,在饮食上也就形成了许多风味。中国饮食也因季节不同而不同。中国烹饪很早就注重品味情趣,不仅对饭菜点心的色、香、味有严格的要求,而且对它们的命名、品味的方式、进餐时的节奏、娱乐的穿插等都有一定的要求。其中,中国烹饪还很注重刀工火候等等。这些细节在《饮食男女》中都可以体现出来,特别是开头朱师傅在厨房里的那场戏。


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  • The Father Figures from East and West

Chef Chu breaks out of the social norm

EAST: Largely influenced by the patriarchal convention, Chef Chu requires his daughters to fully respect him in every way. He easily becomes angry and leaves the table when his daughters are trying to bicker with him. In the traditional Chinese mind, the father is the center of a family. Everyone should completely revere and follow him. He drives Jia-Qian, his second daughter, out of the kitchen when she is practicing how to cook to become a chef. As part of old China, he maintains the tradition that a woman cannot be a master chef and inculcates her to pursue a career outside the culinary profession.

However, reversal and surprise appear in Lee’s film. At a Sunday family banquet, Chu announces his intention to marry Jing-Rong, who is about the same age as his daughters. Even though this news startles everyone, Lee had portrayed Chu’s care for Jing-Rong and her daughter in earlier scenes  Chef Chu eventually breaks out of the Confucian cycle and pursues a lost but desired life. In proper Chinese families, the very notion of a father enjoying himself, let alone taking carnal satisfaction, is inappropriate. As Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh notes in Taiwan Film Directors, “Central to the film is Chef Chu’s character arc, his transitions from constricted old man to unconventional romantic, with a taste for food and life ultimately returning to him.”

Ben reunites the family

Ben reunites the family

 WEST: Ben Hood, no longer the dominant role in the family, is a troubled father and finds himself more or less redundant because their children are growing up too quickly. Ben is loud and energetic and in an effort to talk his way out of a situation over which he has no control and cannot comprehend. He is no longer able to live up to the image as a respected and revered father.

As David Minnihann mentions in his blog(, “The Ice Storm takes another step in Lee’s identification with the father, whose rebirth as both an individual and as a leader of his family is witnessed in intimate detail. The finale of the film brings us the first redemptive father in Lee’s work – not only uniting his family, caring for them and serving them (as did the father in Eat Drink Man Woman), but taking their sins unto himself, compiling them with his own, and seeking forgiveness and atonement for his entire household.” 

As we have analyzed so far, the “in-between” culture is obvious. The “west father” gives up his own desire and settles down as a domestic father. While the “east father” fails to unite the family and leaves to find his own desired life.

  • The Youth

Eat Drink Man Woman

Chef Chu’s three daughters are all restricted in their own lives—they are all somewhat unable to pursue what they truly want due to a series of social restraints. first daughter, Jia-Jen, is a high school teacher who is trapped in the memory of her first heartbreaking love. She thus, is unable to start a new life. second daughter, Jia-Qian, a white-collar professional in the office, is unsatisfied with her life because she has long held a dream to become a master chef, yet is stopped by her father.

                        The third daughter, Jia-Ning, falls in love with a boy but is unable to express her true feelings because her friend loves the boy too.


Awkwardness and uneasiness pervade the family because everyone is trying to conceal their  yearnings. Initially, everyone in the family fails to achieve their dreams due to various social conventions. But as the plot unfolds, the three daughters all somewhat break from convention and depart from their “traditional” selves.

Jia-Jen falls in love with a teacher in her school and starts a happy new life. She changes from pessimistic and silent to out-going and vibrant.


Jia-Qian becomes a Master Chef. The last scene shows her father enjoying the food she cooked—a silent approval of her daughter’s professional aspirations.


Jia-Ning, the youngest daughter, finally has the courage to confess her love and get married, and she abandons college to become a domestic woman.


As everyone finds what they want, the family as a whole is disintegrated. As Yeh notes, “Splicing cuisine and sex, traditional and cosmopolitan, Confucian patriarchy with modern individualism, and commercial polish with independent snap, Eat Drink Men Women is an intricate, heady blend.” Characters overcome the social standards, departing from what the society expects them to be—complying the moral codes.

Youth in The Ice Storm
The notion of a failing and insecure patriarchy causes trouble.Each child creates their own private world, living largely inside their own fantasies. Their self-centered exclusion removes them from normality.
Wendy is obsessive with Nixon/Watergate scandal and “is willing to bed down with any number of boys”
Paul is nerdy and wants “poor little rich girl” Libbets. He is obsessed by The Fantastic Four, where he sees that the closer when you walk to your family, the closer when you walk into the void. You can distant yourself from that void.
Sandy likes to blow things up and break his Action Men.
Mikey, the one character who truly does not belong in the world he has been given. He is not able to fit into his society in any way, only able to resolve his quest when he reaches his perfect world – in the ice storm.
The children are on a journey of self-awareness and must navigate the road to maturity on their own. They believe their parents have failed to their social roles, so they all try to be everything their parents are not, which causes anxiety and trouble. The death of Mikey is results from the absent of parenthood.
  • Our Overall Experiences 

(Written by Yingqi)

“Learning American Culture”


My partner Yingqi!

Through this cross-cultural communication, I have come to realize the great differences between American culture and Chinese culture, especially in terms of sex. In the Ice Storm, the 14-year-old daughter is very curious about sex and shows great interests in it. While in Eat Drink Man Woman, the oldest daughter who is about 30 always suppress herself and at last outburst. And also the sexual game among the adults shocks me, because in Chinese traditional notion, one is supposed to very loyal to his partner both mentally and physically. Compared to Chinese culture, American culture seems to more emphasize on the individual enjoyment and people’s viewpoints are more open.

“Learning from the project”

I have been learning a lot so far from the project. First, I made a new friend, who is very hard-working and independent that she went abroad to study on her own, living in a totally different environment. Second, I learned more about the differences between American colleges and Chinese colleges in the curriculum styles, homework styles, and so on. Third, I learned that for my future study I should make a specific plan before I start to work and achieve it step by step like what we have done in these days. Fourth, I learned more skills on analyzing films and to appreciate them.


(Written by me)

“Film, a dramatic medium for cross-cultural understanding”

Much like Ang Lee, I was born and raised in china, and was largely shaped by the Chinese ideology. Then I came to US to study American culture and have been influenced gradually by the western values. So when I finished the Eat Drink Men Women, I first recognized the Confucian ideas, including values of conformity, discipline, obedience, diligence, and sacrifice, which was employed as a way to question universal standards of values by western powers.  But I also recognized the western notions that the characters contain, the independence, individualism and personal freedom. It is very interesting for an “in-between” viewer to analyze all the different cultural phenomenon in those “in-between” films.

During the whole process partnering with Yingqi, we found we have so much in common. We are both from Fujian Province and love American culture. We identify ourselves as the “in-between” cultural learners and discovered that there is no single culture, either East or West, could exist without the other.Sometimes they stand against each other; sometimes they weave together in an fantastic way, as the films we have analyzed above. Film, a dramatic medium, by carrying multiple forms of cultural notions, helps us to understand the western culture better as well as enables us to reflect upon our own culture.





Ang Lee’s quotes on IMDB

Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island by Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh & Darrell William Davis, Columbia University Press/New York, 1998 p203

Senses of Cinema