Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989): Wayne Wang’s Serio-Comedy Set in Chinatown, New York

Wayne Wong, a major indie force in telling Chinese-American tales, has made a strong impression with his feature debut “Chan Is Missing” and then “Dim Sum.”  “Eat a Bowl of Tea” is another small, modest serio-comedy, this time around set in New York (not San Francisco) Chinatown, centering on the pressure that parents put on their children to marry Chinese brides.

After years of strict immigration laws (and forced separation of spouses), Chinese immigrants were allowed to bring their spouses to the U.S.  But while it was too late for the older generation to do so, they feel that their children should take advantage of these changes.


“Eat a Bowl of Tea” lacks the humor and light touch of “Chan Is Missing,” but Wang and scenarist Judith Rascoe, working from Louis Chu’s novel, depict eccentric characters seldom seen on the American screen in the 1980s  and early 1990s. (This situation will change with the input of Ang Lee, the Taiwanese-born, NYU-educated director).


Wang’s next picture, “Life Is Cheap…but Toilet Paper is Expensive,” was a bizarre story about a courier sent to Hong Kong to deliver a metal briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.  Upon arrival, he’s unable to deliver the mysterious package and decides to visit the city’s sights instead.  When some uncharacteristically violent scenes threatened to earn the picture X rating, Wang decided to release it unrated, which guaranteed that the visual concept remain intact, but also that no one saw it.


Wang entered successfully into the mainstream with “The Joy Luck Club,” which received wide distribution and did well at the box-office.

Dis Columbia Pictures
Pro Tom Sternberg
Dir Wayne Wang
Scr Louis Chu (novel), Judith Rascoe
Cam Amir M. Mokri
Ed Richard Candib
Des Bob Ziembicki
Cos Marit Allen
Mus Mark Adler
RT 102 min

Cast Mei Oi (Cora Maio), Ben Loy (Russell Wong), Wah Gay (Victor Wong), Lee Gong (Siu Ming Lau), Ah Song (Eric Tsang)

B.O. $231,423