After the culinary thriller drama film, “The Menu,” another Asian movie attempts to explore the same theme through “Hunger.” “Hunger” is a culinary drama film produced in Thailand and directed by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, which was released on the Netflix platform last week. The film stars Nopachai Chaiyanam, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, and Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya. With a distinctive and mature aesthetic style, “Hunger” tries a unique approach to its genre that no film has ever done before. Culinary-themed films are becoming as packed as horror films; how did this trend emerge?

Aoy (Chutimon) is a female chef in her family’s busy restaurant. Seeing Aoy’s talent and culinary results, she is invited by a man named Tone (Gunn) to audition at the number one restaurant, “Hunger,” led by the legendary chef Chef Paul (Chaiyanam). For Aoy, competing against other candidates is relatively easy, but the eccentric and cold Chef Paul puts tremendous pressure on her. Aoy perseveres, and under the strict guidance of the Chef, she earns a place in the restaurant. As time goes by, Aoy also realizes that Chef Paul seems to have different principles from hers.

First things first. The story is something different with its overly unique aesthetic approach. Horror. The horror here is not a scary ghost or a jump scare, but rather the mood and atmosphere of the film. The gripping music and the low-key lighting further emphasize the horror tone. These aesthetic aspects revolve around a charismatic antagonist, the legendary Chef played by Nopachai Chaiyanam. Chef Paul is like a vampire who wants to consume all his opponents alive. The horror is consistently approached through his character, much like Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) in “The Menu.” A memorable scene is packaged in a very classy style in one moment. When the Chef makes his guests relish his cooking with gusto and greed, it’s like a vampire enjoying his prey. Wow, there has never been a scene where eating food is served in such a unique and terrifying manner.

This horror-like aesthetic is not without motive. The Chef’s clients are wealthy people and despotic officials who were also traumatized during his childhood. Since childhood, he has held a grudge against them, motivating him to become the number one chef so that they would have to beg him to make food. To him, they are like monsters preying on little people. Who would have thought that this story could convey such a subtle social message? The visualization described above feels brilliant, doesn’t it?

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The rivalry with Aoy adds more depth to the story. Unfortunately, conflicts towards the end are complicated by the inconsistency of the moral attitudes of the characters. Chef Slowik in “The Menu” had an ulterior motive explained in detail at the end – he wanted justice, and that’s what he got, albeit in a tragic way. So, what is Chef Paul’s real goal if he uses a method outside the law? Is he trapped in his ambition for revenge? So why are the frills of poverty and social inequality brought into the story? There’s something missing here. The character of Chef is less bright than I imagined.

Aoy’s character makes it too easy to anticipate the ending. Aoy, who seems unstable, is also trapped in her ambition to surpass her mentor. When she reaches the top, she realizes that fame is not everything. This is typical. The dialogue needed to provide a satisfactory answer is sometimes clear and sometimes entirely unnecessary. Let the audience think without being fed information. Maybe there’s something I’m missing that makes things feel odd. This makes all of its brilliant aesthetic accomplishments feel less impactful.

“Hunger” is an exceptional culinary drama film with all its horror tones, which, unfortunately, gets stuck in the complexity of the message and the depth of the story. “Hunger” has the potential to become an unexpected masterpiece. Its exploration and aesthetic achievements are exceptional. I remember Po’s dialogue with his father in “Kung-Fu Panda,” “there are no secret ingredients; it is only in your mind.” Despite all its accomplishments, “Hunger” has a simple statement that has nothing to do with social commentary. As expensive and delicious as the food out there is, nothing can beat the food we eat at home. Not because of the food itself, but with whom we eat and where we are usually together. Who’s hungry now?

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Artikel BerikutnyaSewu Dino
His hobby has been watching films since childhood, and he studied film theory and history autodidactically after graduating from architectural studies. He started writing articles and reviewing films in 2006. Due to his experience, the author was drawn to become a teaching staff at the private Television and Film Academy in Yogyakarta, where he taught Film History, Introduction to Film Art, and Film Theory from 2003 to 2019. His debut film book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2008, which divides film art into narrative and cinematic elements. The second edition of the book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2018. This book has become a favorite reference for film and communication academics throughout Indonesia. He was also involved in writing the Montase Film Bulletin Compilation Book Vol. 1-3 and "30 Best Selling Indonesian Films 2012-2018." Additionally, he authored the "Horror Film Book: From Caligari to Hereditary" (2023) and "Indonesian Horror Film: Rising from the Grave" (2023). Until now, he continues to write reviews of the latest films at montasefilm.com and is actively involved in all film productions at the Montase Film Community. His short films have received high appreciation at many festivals, both local and international. Recently, his writing was included in the shortlist (top 15) of Best Film Criticism at the 2022 Indonesian Film Festival. From 2022 until now, he has also been a practitioner-lecturer for the Film Criticism and Film Theory courses at the Yogyakarta Indonesian Institute of the Arts in the Independent Practitioner Program.

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