Fly Spirit’s food was sort of slow and reasonably local. Most of all, it was
entirely traditional, making it difficult to replicate in these times. His daughter
Chan Hsiao-wan is learning that the hard way. She had always planned to be an
actress or a model, but she is falling back on the old family catering business
after tasting the cold hard realities of showbiz in Chen Yu-hsun’s awkwardly
titled Zero Pro Site: the Movable Feast (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival.
was always better at being cute than responsible, so she would be just the type
to innocently co-sign on a deadbeat boyfriend’s loan. When he takes to the
wind, two loan-sharks come to collect from her. Fleeing Taipei, she eventually reconnects
with her stepmother, “Puffy” Ai-feng who is also evading debt collectors. Unfortunately,
“Puffy” earned her new nickname when she sacrificed her savings and her late
husband’s reputation in an ill-advised showdown with his faithless apprentice. However,
Chan’s sunny personality and a few long forgotten traditional dishes start
attracting customers to their greasy spoon.
surprisingly, Chan has been a poor steward of her father’s recipes, so she
seeks help from a variety of sources, including his happily addled teacher
Master Tiger Nose and the itinerant “Dr. Gourmet,” a.k.a. ex-con Yeh Ju-hai. However,
just as things start to develop between her and Yeh, he jumps ship to assist
his teacher, the gangster caterer Master Ghost Head. Even without Yeh’s help, Chan
places her future hopes in a national catering competition, duly impressing the
loan-sharks into kitchen service, as could only happen in romantic comedies.
Yet, to truly cook in a traditional manner, she will have to fully engage with
there is a lot of food in ZPS, as
metaphors, comedic props, and a way to celebrate Taiwanese cultural identity. Yet,
it only serves a limited courtship function. While the film certainly has a
dash of romance it is more about familial legacies and finding one’s place in
the world. Like Chan’s turtle-stuffed chickens, the film is also bursting at
the seams with supporting characters, so if one is too goofy and outrageous for
your tastes, just wait for a more understated type to come along.
Chan, Kimi Hsia is relentlessly silly and sweet, without getting viewers’
nerves. She forges some respectable screen chemistry with Tony Yang, even
though Dr. Gourmet largely vanishes during the second and third acts. Top-billed
Lin Mei-hsiu initially mugs something fierce as Puffy Ai-feng, but she reins it
in to some extent as the dramedy starts to develop. Although there is a lot of
colorful wackiness going on, the film draws a lot of heart from its senior
cast-members, such as the recently reunited old couple, who want Chan to cater
their wedding in the manner they remember from their youth.
ZPS is fun, it is
endearing—it really could have been ninety some minutes. Over two hours of food
and nostalgia is starting to push it. Still, Chen ties up all his subplots fairly
neatly. He might have more secondary characters than Around the World in Eighty Days, but he develops a rather high
percentage of them. Frothy and pleasing, it delivers some potent wistfulness
along with its liberal servings of food and scrappy underdog resiliency.
Recommended for fans of generation-spanning culinary cinema, Zero Pro Site—The Moveable Feast screens
tomorrow (7/5) at the Walter Reade Cinema, as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Culinary Cinema, NYAFF '14, Taiwanese Cinema