After the culinary thriller drama film, The Menu, another Asian movie tries to explore the same theme through Hunger. Hunger is a culinary drama film produced by Thailand and directed by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, which was released on the Netflix platform last week. This 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 any film has never done. Culinary-themed films are packed like horror; how come?

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

First things first. The story is something different with its overly unique aesthetic approach. Horror. The horror that I mean here is not a scary ghost or a jump scare, but the mood and atmosphere of the film. The gripping music and the low-key lighting further emphasize the horror tone. These aesthetic aspects are centered on a charismatic antagonist, the legendary Chef played by Nopachai Chaiyanam. Chef Paul is like a vampire who wants to eat all his opponents alive. Horror always approached his figure. His figure resembles 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 enjoy his cooking with gusto and greed, it’s like a vampire wanting his prey. Wow, there was never a scene where eating food is simultaneously served so unique and terrifying.

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

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Rivalry with Aoy can also give more depth to the story. Unfortunately, conflict after conflict towards the end is complicated by the inconsistency of the moral attitudes of the characters. Chef Slowik in The Menu has 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 around? There’s something to miss here. The Chef is less bright than I imagined.

The character of Aoy herself also makes it too easy to anticipate the ending. Aoy, who looks unstable, is also trapped in her ambition to beat her mentor, and when she is at the top, she realizes that fame is not everything. This is typical. The dialogue needed to be able to provide a satisfactory answer. Sometimes the motive is clear, and sometimes it is 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 biting.

Hunger is an exceptional culinary drama film with all its horror tones, which, unfortunately, the execution is stuck in the complexity of the message and the depth of the story. Hunger has the potential to become an unexpected masterpiece. His exploration and aesthetic achievements are exceptional. I remember Po’s dialog with his father in Kung-Fu Panda, “there are no secret ingredients; it is only in your mind.” For 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, nothing can beat the food we eat at home. Not because of the food, but with whom we eat and where we are usually together. Who’s hungry now?

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Hobinya menonton film sejak kecil dan mendalami teori dan sejarah film secara otodidak setelah lulus dari studi arsitektur. Ia mulai menulis artikel dan mengulas film sejak tahun 2006. Karena pengalamannya, penulis ditarik menjadi staf pengajar di Akademi Televisi dan Film swasta di Yogyakarta untuk mengajar Sejarah Film, Pengantar Seni Film, dan Teori Film sejak tahun 2003 hingga tahun 2019. Buku film debutnya adalah Memahami Film (2008) yang memilah seni film sebagai naratif dan sinematik. Buku edisi kedua Memahami Film terbit pada tahun 2018. Buku ini menjadi referensi favorit bagi para akademisi film dan komunikasi di seluruh Indonesia. Ia juga terlibat dalam penulisan Buku Kompilasi Buletin Film Montase Vol. 1-3 serta 30 Film Indonesia Terlaris 2012-2018. Hingga kini, ia masih menulis ulasan film-film terbaru di dan terlibat dalam semua produksi film di Komunitas Film Montase. Film- film pendek arahannya banyak mendapat apresiasi tinggi di banyak festival, baik lokal maupun internasional. Baru lalu, tulisannya masuk dalam shortlist (15 besar) Kritik Film Terbaik dalam Festival Film Indonesia 2022. Pada tahun yang sama, ia juga menjadi pengajar intensif Mata Kuliah Kritik Film di Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta dalam Program Praktisi Mandiri.


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