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Rachelle Andrews

Mar. 17, 2007

FMS 1 Final

# 4: Mise-en-scène

This grand undefined French term mise-en-scène, stems from the French

theater, meaning “putting into a scene” or “setting the scene”. When applied to

film it is used to describe how the sets, props, actors, costumes, lighting, camera

angles, editing, and everything that appears before the camera are used to create

the emotional tone and message of the film.

Mark Chiang argues in his article “Coming Out into the Global System”

that the mise-en-scène of Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet’s mediates the film's

message around queerness and Asian American society. He argues that the film

cannot be read within a particular national culture, but that it must be “read

across them in a transnational analysis”(Chiang 274). Chiang points out that

throughout the film Lee does not identify New York City too literally as the

setting of the film, and by doing this is able to create a film in a "transnational"

setting, with "transnational" application and appeal. “[T]he film's

cinematography is surely the extent to which Manhattan is resolutely stripped of

all its iconic distinctions, converting it into the simulacrum or urban space in any

number of metropolitan centers around the globe”(Chiang 275). This stripping of

urban identity is a way of creating a film that is able to discuss homosexuality as

an international issue, not just as an issue affecting New York, America, or
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western society only. This mise-en-scène the film creates mainly through Lee's

editing and set selection. Although most of the film is set indoors the scenes shot

outside give little indication that it is filmed in New York City. The block where

Simon and Wei-Tung live is filmed as a generalized location and even when

Simon and Wei-Tung’s father go walking at the end of the film there is no

landmark to link the scene to downtown Manhattan.

I personally agree with Chiang about the film and believe that it not only

creates a kind of transnational identity but also brings together sexual and

national/ethnic identities. In the first half of the film Lee focuses on

“representation of sexuality [that] is also simultaneously a negotiation of

ethnicity”(Chiang 278) and is able to create a converging narrative. Chiang

explains that the idea of “coming out of the closet” in this film not only

transcends Wei-Tung’s homosexuality but also his western identity. When Wei-

Tung’s parents set him up on a blind date through a Chinese dating service to

find his “perfect match” he is almost engaged in a “masquerade of

authenticity”(Chiang 278). Both Wei-Tung and his date Sister Mao agree on the

date to hide their white lovers from their parents, who continually seek to re-

create Oriental traditions in their westernized children. The mise-en-scène of

these scenes is highly characterized by the costumes and the dialogue between

the characters.

Similarly, in the film Boys Don’t Cry directed by Kimberly Pierce and

starring Hillary Swank, a feeling of rural seclusion and small town America,

“strange and distant horizons populated by hostile populations”(Halberstam 22)
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is clearly created by the film’s mise-en-scène. This feeling of being trapped in

rural seclusion is set up in the beginning of the film. As it opens you are taken on

a journey through the dark night, from the headlights of the cars passing to the

dark and unlighted road ahead. The camera shifts from the road to the rear view

mirror which catches a glimpse of Brandon looking back at the road just traveled,

at the place he is leaving behind. This “rural homophobia” in Boy’s Don’t Cry is

an important factor in creating the films message.

Work Cited:

Chaing, Mark. “Coming Out into the Global System: Postmodern Patriarchies

and Transnational Sexualities in The Wedding Banquet.” In Peter X. Feng

(ed.). Screening Asian Americans. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University

Press, 2002. 273-292

Halberstam, Judith. “The Brandon Archive.” In a Queer Time and Place:

Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press, 2005. 22-46

Boys Don’t Cry. Kimberly Pierce, director. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1999.

The Wedding Banquet. Ang Lee, director. Samuel Goldwyn, 1993.
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#6: Dominant Notions

In attempting to challenge our dominant notions of gender and sexuality,

films also work to re-inscribe other dominant notions of race, class, sexuality,

and/ or gender. Through the second half of the quarter our notions of whiteness

and homosexuality have continued to be challenged. Brokeback Mountain directed

by Ang Lee is a film about two white homosexuals living in the heart of

Wyoming working as sheepherders. It is a controversial and provocative “gay

cowboy” romance featuring two white leading men. “U.S. movie-going

audiences have been largely fed the [norm] Hollywood movie-going formula

that has at its center success of the white heterosexual love story” (McBride 95).

This norm that has been fed to us (and we have generally gobbled up!)

over the years is challenged by Brokeback Mountain, but in doing so we are given

an alternative norm of white gay romance. In using this technique to bypass the

racial and ethnic issues surrounding gay relationships in the urban southwest,

Lee is able to grasp the audience’s interest in the relationship and re-inscribe his

own depiction of gay relationships. Both of the men in the film are depicted as

“ruggedly handsome, white, masculine, and straight-acting”(McBride 95),

allowing Lee to even more easily re-inscribe the audiences perceptions and to

humanize the love between the two leading men. In one of the most memorable

moments of the film Jack screams hopelessly to Ennis “I wish I knew how to quit

you!” Jack's earnest and compelling statement stresses the fact that their

relationship is a hopeless romance that has been the norm of homosexual

relationship representations throughout the history of U.S. film.
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In The Wedding Banquet, Ang Lee is also able to re-inscribe another

dominant notion of homosexuality and Asian America. The two central

characters Wan-Tung and Simon are in a homosexual relationship and, unlike

the commonly depicted “rice queen”, Wa-Tung is the strong provider in the

relationship. This socially constructed term of a “rice queen” is used in the gay

community to describe a person (usually an older wealthy white male) who only

dates Asians (particularly east and southeast Asians) and is the provider in the

relationship. But in The Wedding Banquet Lee is able to re-inscribe our notions of

white and Asian homosexual relationships in the U.S. and provide us with this

idea of transnational identity and a sense of global gay identity.

Asian Americans have typically been reduced to a simplified stereotype.

Hollywood Asians have shifty behavior, broken English, slanted and narrow

eyes, mathematical intelligence, and are quiet and conservative. Throughout the

film there are numerous quotes and scenes that re-inscribe our stereotypes of

Asian Americans and the new community of Asians that have recently become

westernized. The wedding banquet scene shows the Asian American community

as completely westernized: depicted as wild partiers who show none of this

stereotypical behavior. Wei-Wei is also a good example of a completely

westernized Asian American woman. Asian American woman have been

stereotyped as secluded shy woman but Wei-Wei is a strong-willed woman who

speaks her mind. She cannot cook and is not shy about taking a stand. Lee is able

to take our stereotypical notions of Asians and re-inscribe them to create a new

and more developed view of the Asian American community.
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Work Cited:

Benshoff, Harry M. and Sean Griffin. “Asian Americans and American Film,”

America on Film. Malden, MA. Blackwell Publishing. 2004

McBride, Dwight A. “Why I Hate That I Loved Brokeback Mountain.” Moving

Image Review: Brokeback Mountain Dossier. GLQ: a Journal of Lesbian and

Gay Studies. 13:1. 2007.

The Wedding Banquet. Ang Lee, director. Samuel Goldwyn, 1993.

Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee, director. Focus Features, 2005.