After disappearing from the film scene for 16 years following Tropical Fish (熱帶魚) and Love Go Go (愛情來了), director Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳) returns with Zone Pro Site (總舖師), a comedy centered on bandoh (辦桌, lit: setting up table), the traditional Taiwanese outdoor banquet typically held at special events such as weddings, festivals and babies’ one-month-old celebrations.
With an ample budget of NT$70 million and seven investors including Warner Bros, Chen Yu-hsun’s comedy has the look of a summer blockbuster with an A-list cast of actors, sleek production values and abundant supply of good-natured humor. But what makes the film stand out is its attention to the emotional side of the story, which revolves around the art of the Taiwanese banquet catering.
A long time ago, there were three bandoh master chefs whose names alone evoke awe. However, as times changed, the tradition of banquet catering gradually waned, and the chefs who catered them quietly faded away. On his deathbed, Master Fly Spirit — a master chef played by renowned director Ko Yi-cheng (柯一正) — passed on the family recipes to his daughter Wan (Kimi Hsia, 夏于喬), who desperately wants to escape the catering business. Young and sassy, Wan tries her luck at modeling in Taipei, to little avail.
The ill-fated model soon finds herself on the run from two debt collectors, amusingly played by Chen Chu-sheng (陳竹昇) and Chen Wan-hao (陳萬號), who hold Wan responsible for her boyfriend’s huge debt. Disillusioned, Wan returns home to Tainan and discovers that the family business has been reduced to a noodle stand after her mother Ai-fong (Lin Mei-hsiu, 林美秀) loses a bid for a big outdoor banquet, and subsequently sinks into debt.
Zone Pro Site 總舖師
Directed by: Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳)
Starring: Kimi Hsia (夏于喬) as Wan, Yo Yang (楊祐寧) as Hai, Lin Mei-hsiu (林美秀) as Ai-fong
Running time: 145 minutes
Language: Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Taiwan release: Today
The mother and daughter get a break when a former customer asks them to cook up a table of old bandoh dishes that have long fallen into oblivion. As luck would have it, Hai (Yo Yang, 楊祐寧), a self-proclaimed food doctor who turns unsavory food into delicacies, comes to their rescue. As they learn to recreate the traditional menu, love buds between the two young cooks. Hai, however, disappears one day after a quarrel with Wan.
Meanwhile, with a partially completed menu of traditional bandoh fare, the mother and daughter decide to enter a national bandoh competition to pay off their debts. Facing competition from Master Ghost Head (King Jieh-wen, 喜翔), a master chef recently released from prison, and Hai, the chef’s favorite protege, Wan takes up the challenge and discovers the true spirit of bandoh.
A boisterous melange of influences and ideas, the film fluently dabbles in different territories but is never too outstretched that it falls apart. The three master chefs, their legendary prowess and the different paths they choose while searching for the meaning of bandoh, read like a synopsis for a promising martial-arts flick. Crossing over to the realm of Japanese manga, the film playfully features sequences of manga-style hyperbole: An old man recalls youthful puppy love after eating fried rice noodles; another dish is so tasty that it literally blows the assembled gastronomes into outer space. Not to be outdone, a team of zhainan (宅男) — a term that refers to homebound nerdy guys immersed in comics, cartoons, computers and online games — always come to offer assistance to the young heroine the moment she needs help.