“Heavy Craving” – 2019 Busan Film Review


The plot of an overweight woman seeking happiness through drastic weight loss has been done many a time in cinema – notably, given the setting of the Busan International Film Festival, in films such as the Korean box office hit “200 Pounds Beauty.”  But while the main character in that work sought the attention of a man through extreme plastic surgery, the 2019 Taiwanese film “Heavy Craving” takes a more arduous and realistic route towards self-improvement.

Thirty-year-old Ying-Juan (Tsai Jia-yin) works at her mother’s school, where she’s subjected to such nicknames as “Ms. Dinosaur” from the kids.  But she’s mostly forgiven because she is a master chef in the kitchen, treating the children to all sorts of gourmet meals.  She’d like to do the same for her mother (Samantha Ko), who can’t be bothered spending time with a daughter whom she clearly loves but is simultaneously embarrassed by, so much so that she enrolls Ying-Juan in one of those fitness centers that pushes strict diets and even stricter exercise regimens.  Enter Wu (Chang Yao-jen), an amiable delivery man who happens to work in Ying-Juan’s neighborhood, and knocks on her door to deliver a package.  She’s smitten, and from here it’s expected that Ying-Juan will pursue her fitness program with renewed motivation, and live happily ever after.

Thankfully, director Hsieh Pei-Ju takes a completely different turn.  Ying-Juan is forced to confront the choices she makes as the narrative turns darker, and she starts to see Wu, her mother and others around her from a new perspective.  A secondary storyline involving Ying-Juan and her mother’s best student, a dour boy named Xiao-Yu, seems to be superfluous until her acceptance of his identity simultaneously contrasts with her struggle to accept her physical self.  The models in the fitness commercials may claim that the route to self-improvement comes from within – “My happiness is in my own hands,” as one of them declares – but the actual path, as it is in real life, is far from clear cut.

“Heavy Craving” made its international premiere at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival.

Video: Actress Tsai Jia-yin, director Hsieh Pei-Ju and actor Chang Yao-jen greet audience, Busan International Film Festival, Oct. 6, 2019
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine