The most fantastic setting in the movie is underground, where Master Silly Mortal — the most elusive master chef played by cultural glitterati Wu Nien-chen (吳念真) — dwells and cooks for outcasts and vagabonds. It is one of the rare moments in Taiwanese cinema that make good use of Taipei’s subterranean labyrinth of interconnected subway stations, railways and tunnels. The result is a well-crafted fantasy world where large underground murals portray the history and custom of bandoh.
As the delightfully messy script requires, the film enlists a large troop of characters and cameo roles by some of Taiwan’s most distinctive talents. Leading man Yang enchants with his deadpan comic delivery, owing much to his character’s funky accent, which is ingeniously designed to tone down the actor’s good looks. Comedian Lin invests a healthy dose of sprightliness and vigor to her role as the loudmouthed, artless mother, supported by the more farcical humor properly handled by veteran actors Chen Chu-sheng and Chen Wan-hao as the two debt collectors-turned-little helpers.
Despite a large cast of new actors and veterans, performances are surprisingly even; every role is given a moment to shine. Even veteran thespian King’s supposed sinister Master Ghost Head is a fun character, apparently hailing from the disco era with his bell-bottom pants, greasy hair and a theme song by Mando-pop legend Liu Wen-zheng (劉文正), who thrived during the 1970s and 1980s.
But Chen Yu-hsun knows well that humor and whimsical characters alone can’t touch the heart. Amid constant glee, the film nevertheless clings to grassroots emotions and the central motif which is embodied in Wu’s Master Silly Mortal, who believes that bandoh is never about making money or procuring fame but about giving everybody a chance to contribute and connect with each other. Mutual understanding and reconciliation between characters are reached in the grand finale, without which the climax-reaching bandoh competition would merely be an empty spectacle. Ultimately, Zone Pro Site proves that Chen Yu-hsun is a director worth waiting for.