“Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast” – 2014 NYAFF Review

A huge hit in Taiwan last year, the unfortunately-named “Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast” is awash with a kaleidoscope of Technicolor, a boisterous soundtrack, and a rather manic story that sways from silly fantasy to comedic musical to genuine tearjerker.  Whatever your genre preference, there is bound to be one aspect of this film that appeals, and chances are high that it is the food, which takes center stage in yet another cheery Taiwanese bubble gum blockbuster.

The first three words in the film’s title, as it turns out, are mangled English phonetics for the Taiwanese Hokkien phrase zong po sai (總舖師), the term used to describe a master chef behind one of Taiwan’s most important culinary customs: the ban-doh (辦桌) – or open-air banquet often held in sprawling parking lots with dozens of roll-away tables and cooking stations – hence the concept of “the moveable feast.”  Chan Hsiao Wan (played by the peppy Kimi Hsia) is the daughter of one such master chef, the late Master Fly Spirit, who leaves her with a parting heirloom: a book of his secret recipes.  She would prefer not to endure the blood, sweat and tears of the ban-doh that her father used to oversee, and opts to pursue a modeling career in Taipei.  When that fails and her boyfriend dumps her – along with dumping on her a load of debt – Wan flees to her southern hometown, only to find that her stepmother, Puffy, is struggling to maintain a scaled-down version of the family business and is also in financial straits.  Problems multiply when Wan takes on a seemingly impossible challenge to prepare a wedding banquet of very traditional Taiwanese dishes, which somehow morphs into an entry into the National Catering Contest boasting a grand prize of NT$1 million.

Enter an endless cavalcade of cartoonish characters, from rival chefs to fawning fanboys to bumbling gangsters who do their best to either boost or thwart the Chan family’s intentions to win a big screen Iron Chef  battle for the ages.  Hsia as Wan preens, poses and pouts her way through the film, but manages to bring a newfound maturity to her character as she develops an appreciation for her family trade and for her father.  The photogenic, if at times bland, Tony Yang charms as Doctor Gourmet, swooping in to rescue all sorts of dishes from failure.  However, it’s Lin Mei-Shiu who steals the show as the widowed matriarch, lighting up the screen like a Taiwanese version of the late Hong Kong comedienne Lydia Shum Din Ha.

Ultimately, “Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast” is a two-and-a-half-hour love letter to food, and how it can transcend culture, time and space – even as generations pass.  Just make sure not to watch this film on an empty stomach.