David Foster Foundation Theatre
Oak Bay Beach Hotel
Saturday • June 21 at 5:00pm
Plenty of hilarity and nostalgia can be found in a theatrical culinary odyssey that looks at the “catering” business in Taiwan.
Zone Pro Site: The Movable Feast shows how a good nostalgic soundtrack can highlight the silliness that’s found in this film, and when this film has a zaniness of a classic Stephen Chow movie, perhaps Taiwanese director Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳) should pair up with him to show what two well respected visionaries can do. The only difference is that Chow has recognition outside of China. He’s known internationally for films like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
Their two styles are similar as both filmmakers have a perchance for creating the absurd. Yu-Hsun may not be as well known outside of his home country, and as long as word of mouth continues to praise Zone Pro Site, he may start to get recognition on this side of the Pacific.
Fans of Looney Toon style cartoons, food, and Asian cuisine will love this film. It treats the love for good eats seriously and spotlight the talents of many a performer — most are well known in Taiwan. For a foreigner, they may not know whom any of these people are. For those in the know, to see a Yu-hsun manage a vast cast of A-listers on screen and give them all the screen time they deserve is to be commended.
Leading man Yo Yang plays Hai, a food doctor who goes about fixing botched recipes and comedienne Kimi Hsia plays a naive Wan who is on the run from gangsters looking to collect on her boyfriend’s debt. Just where she flees to is back home, to her mother who runs a noodle shop after losing the family’s restaurant on a bet. Both are hard-up for money, and when debt collectors are after both of them, their only hope is to enter a banquet catering contest to find who is the best. With a huge cash award, they can wipe their slate clean and begin anew.
But life is not easy when the recipe book Wan inherited is lost. They contain her father’s notes on how to bring out the flavours in a wide variety of dishes. With some funky names like pissing shrimp for some dishes and titles like Master Fly Spirit to describe chefs deft in the art of cooking up banquet style meals (up to 12 dishes) on demand, suddenly this movie’s title has meaning. In Taiwan, all a chef needs are his tools — his knives — to whip up an authentic meal where ever they travel to. The person takes local ingredients and whips up masterpieces that is both visions of glory and savory pieces of delight.
To understand what it means to be a cook, chef, five star or Michelin rated is not what this film explores. Instead, it’s about being a samurai in the kitchen and adhering to certain principals of what it means to be a gastronomic genius. The subtext cannot go unnoticed. The young Wan never understood that of her papa, Master Fly Spirit (Ko Yi-Cheng), every time she hid under the table with a box over her head. She was often scared of some of the things produced in the kitchen. Spirit had hoped he could pass on his knowledge to her, but when she has aspirations to be a model/actress, she’s hardly measuring up to either her own or her dad’s expectations. Her life has been that of hanging on to others to get by. When her boyfriend disappears and gangsters are knocking at her apartment door, her fear gets the better of her again and that’s when she runs away from the city life and heads back home.
What she finds is Ai Fong (Lin Mei-Hsiu), her mother, barely managing to hold her own, hardly having the skills of a cook, and what they do is to lose hope together. Much of the drama feels serious but Yu-hsun sweetly inserts humour to relieve the tension that’s going on. When the gangsters catch up, the mix of sweet social drama and comedy starts to blow up to epic Monty Python style proportions.
Chen Chu-sheng and Chen Wan-hao steal the show as the gangsters. These two have the comedic talent that has no North American equivalent to compare it to. The way they play off each other really must be watched since they provide the best laugh out loud moments when they are forced to learn how to do food prep for the contest. As the catalyst for bringing this film to life, perhaps they are deserving for a spin-off product should Yu-hsun decide to continue to explore the world of catering. It is big business in Asia.
As for what this visionary can do next, all he needs is world-wide recognition than just local support so he can make his mark. At least for residents of Victoria, British Columbia, they can have a few belly aching laughs at marvelling what a humourist filmmaker can make on-screen June 21st, 5pm at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel with plenty of spicy duck spring rolls to take into the theatre.
4 Blokes out of 5