Thursday, April 20, 2023

Hunger (2023)

'Is it good because it's expensive or expensive because it's good?'

This is one of the key questions overtly leveled at the audience of Hunger, a dark and stylish expose of the Bangkok foodie scene...along with 'what is the true price of that hunger to be recognised as special?'.

The head chef as anti-hero operating on the edge of societal norms has become a familiar archetype in the past decade. Lately we've had Nicholas Cage in Pig, Stephen Graham in Boiling Point and, of course, Ralph Fiennes in The Menu. Like the Mozart of Amadeus, these men are celebrity geniuses awkwardly dependent on the patronage of an often dumb and compromised elite. 

Chef Paul (Nopachai Chaivanam) has lifted himself up from a position where, as a child, he found himself licking caviar off a kitchen floor, to be the most sought after kitchen tyrant in Thailand. 

He runs a centralised culinary business called Hunger, but his main trade appears to be catering for extravagant private events: parties thrown by socialites and cryptocurrency moguls barely out of adolescence and those spicy social broths consisting of politicians, the military and law enforcement. 

An unlikely new recruit onto the Hunger team is Aoy, played by the altogether longer-named Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying. She has been discovered operating a wok at her family noodle shop by Chef Paul's underling Tone and, clearly gifted with a natural talent for frying, soon has to establish herself on the team by perfectly flame-cooking the most expensive, thin-slice cuts of beef (A5 Wagyu).

Chuengcharoensukying is a former model with possibly the most beautifully-encased eyes I have ever come across, and in this film it's these work well in combination with a series of sudden jetitas that tweak her facial muscles, thus projecting her see-saw journey between gratification and consternation in this unfamiliar world. Crucially, Aoy arrives at a moral compass moment around the midpoint.

Her boss has come to see himself as above the law and above taste and yet recognises that the only way for him to escape prejudice is to twist it to his own ends. And even as we see that, on some levels, his pandering to the rich can benefit the poor, he firmly believes the notion that food can be made with love is the sentimental excuse of those mired in poverty. 

Aoy is the bearer of a hand-me-down recipe for ('cry baby') noodles which embodies a clear counter-argument. It's clear that director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri ultimately wishes all the decent folk amongst his audience to ultimately understand that they'd much rather consume a dish prepared by Aoy than Paul. Indeed, he reminds us of his previous gigs in the horror genre almost every time Paul's morsels are consumed.

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