Director: Chen Yu Hsun
Writer: Chen Yu Hsun
Cast: Lin Mei Hsiu, Tony Yang, Kimi Hsia, Wu Nien Chen, Ko Yi Cheng, His Hsiang, To Hsien, Bamboo Chen, Chan Wan Hao
Running Length: 144 minutes
Synopsis: More than twenty years ago, there were three Ban-doh (outdoor banquet) master chefs who dominated the catering business in Taiwan. They were known as Master Silly Mortal, Master Ghost Head and Master Fly Spirit. However, the outdoor banquet business has been in decline since Taiwan’s economic take-off, and even the master chefs feel helpless to turn the tide. Master Fly Spirit wants to pass the family recipes and culinary skills on to his only child, Hsiao Wan, but she desperately wants to run away from the family business and to become a fashion model. Nevertheless, fate proves that Wan is destined to take up the challenge and mission she once shunned…
Review: Curious, meaningless English title aside, Zone Pro Site is an entertaining romp through the world of “ban dou”, the Taiwanese catering business, through the eyes of a younger generation. Continuing a trend of Taiwanese movies seeing success when dealing with specific aspects of Taiwanese culture, Zone Pro Site tells an engaging story that doesn’t bore, despite a running time clocking well over 2 hours.
Although director Chen Yu Hsun has been away from the big screen for sixteen years, he seems to have stayed remarkably up-to-date, amply evidenced by his choice to use an almost manga style to his direction of Zone Pro Site. There are many scenes which invoke the use of magical realism, and the larger-than-life characters also allude to the manga influence, not least of which are a trio of “otakus” who are ready to offer their assistance to the central protagonist Hsiao Wan at all times. The finale cooking competition is also one of the weirdest I have seen for a live-action movie, incorporating effects and sequences that seem to have been plucked directly out of similarly themed Japanese cartoons. This stylistic choice makes for a lively viewing experience, and helps to minimize dead air in the movie (but requires a high tolerance level to whimsy).
It also helps that most of the main and supporting cast members put in good performances, none more so than Lim Mei Hsiu as the boisterous mother of Hsiao Wan. She displays both a great comic timing and good thespian prowess, easily outshining any other cast member sharing the screen with her. Kimi Hsia does the best she could with what is essentially quite a one-note lead character, but fortunately she is ably bolstered by a good supporting cast. The weakest link is clearly Tony Yang, who seems to function as a pretty face but is undeniably bland in his portrayal of the “gourmet doctor” and requisite love interest.
With a relatively large cast and multiple plot threads, it was perhaps inevitable that certain elements would have fallen by the wayside. One unfortunate and surprising casualty of this is the actual food itself – for a movie that revolves around feasts and chefs, I had expected there to be much greater focus on the dishes being created. However, the director seems to prefer showcasing the journey and not the destination, and although there are more than enough scenes on the preparation of the dishes, the final presentation of the finished products seem more like an afterthought. Still, this isn’t a show to watch on an empty stomach, and is best followed by a big, satisfying meal after exiting the cinema.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)