It's quite common to see movies that deal with food and the art of cooking becoming targets for criticism. It's not that difficult for this type of movie to quickly attract the attention of the audience, because hardly anyone would say no to the beautiful, yummy looking dishes in films. But at the same time, it will be easily criticised by both movie and foodie snobs. Despite being currently among the most watched movies on Netflix, the hit drama-thriller Hunger has also divided audiences and critics.
Hunger is the latest project by director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri (Inhuman Kiss) and screenwriter Kongdej Jaturanrasamee. It's about a young woman from a humble background who joins Thailand's most luxurious chef's table only to struggle with the darkness that lies within the country's elites. Hunger is maybe a food-drama sub-genre, but it's definitely not your typical "feel-good Thai cooking" movie as it's more like a commentary on the socioeconomic class-divide throughout the culinary world.
Within a week of release, Hunger became a big topic of debate on social media. While some hailed it as one of the best Thai films to release this year, there are many who said otherwise. But why is that? This review may contain some mild spoilers, so make sure to watch the film before reading this article. You've been warned.
At first glance, Hunger has all the basic ingredients to be a success. From having two of today's most talented Thai actors, Chutimon "Aokbab" Chuengcharoensukying and Nopachai "Peter" Chaiyanam, as the two leads, to being one of the first Thai movies to have the plot revolve around the art of cooking and the rivalries between the best chefs. There are so many beautifully shot cooking scenes and the production value is high. Despite having a slow-paced narrative, Hunger has a unique intense tone throughout which makes it an intriguing watch.
While being a great concept, Hunger also has many flaws which are hard to ignore. Some of the main drawbacks include the poor dialogue and bad script execution -- overcooking the quality ingredients into a kind of mainstream stew. Watching Hunger somehow feels more like watching a stage play rather than watching a movie, all of the expressions and interaction between characters feel pretentious and quite exaggerated. The story sometimes seems implausible and doesn't make much sense, which begs many questions.
Chutimon 'Aokbab' Chuengcharoensukying, left, and Nopachai 'Peter' Chaiyanam in Hunger.
For example, why is chef Paul's character written to be extremely rude for no reason? He reminds me a lot of Fletcher from the movie Whiplash (2014) for how he loses his temper, though in this movie's case, chef Paul feels way, way more sinister. Why does he have to curse with every sentence? It seems very wrong for a man in his profession.
Another problem lies with Aoy, a street cook that gets a chance to work in a fine dining kitchen. How does she quickly rise to sous-chef just because she cooks very good noodles? And in the opening scene, why is Tone (Gunn Svasti) approaching Aoy to come audition at Hunger in such a weird, suspicious and sinister manner? What's with the three-minute sequence of the two making out intensely at Tone's home kitchen that is so weird and has nothing to do at all with the rest of the story other than for the sake of shock value? All these errors in reasoning constantly remind you this is just a movie and not real.
While the movie clearly wants to deliver social commentary, it uses obvious and direct dialogue which doesn't sound that clever, like how "the poor are always being treated differently from the rich" is said multiple times by different characters throughout the story. This feels almost like the movie doesn't trust the audience's intelligence to work it out, so they just go overboard in order to make a point.
I was also a bit disappointed with how underused the supporting characters were. There are quite a few characters who are Aoy's fellow cooks at chef Paul's kitchen who have a few key areas of importance, but ultimately they don't contribute all that much to the main story, such as chef Dang who suddenly leaves the kitchen after important plot points and is never mentioned again. Things seem to get interesting, then don't, and the climax in Hunger is also quite underwhelming. The characters lack depth in the latter part of the movie, turning it into a typical good versus evil scenario leading to a happy ending which wraps thing up too easily and predictably.
But despite all the flaws, Hunger is still worth watching, especially for those who love intense drama and exotic settings. It has a great message about the dangers that can come with following your passion, trying to find instant success and the disenchantment that comes with it. I only wish the filmmakers would have spent longer developing the script and fleshing out more of the characters, because this movie could have been so much better.
- Starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Nopachai Chaiyanam, Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya
- Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri
- Now streaming on Netflix