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Bryan Shu-Hao Chang,
Lun Mei Gwei
When Wan (Kimi Hsia) returns home from Taipei with both a failed modeling career, and an enormous amount of debt, she finds that misfortune has also befallen her family's restaurant, which has now dwindled down to but a single noodle stand. With her hopes dashed, luck comes in the form of Hai (Yo Yang), a self-appointed master chef who decides to help Yan's family find a return to glory by helping them recreate the traditional Taiwanese bandoh menu that once made them so famous. Written by
Fun, silly comedy that doesn't warrant its 144-minute running time, but nevertheless remains buoyant and entertaining throughout.
Very few movies warrant a hefty running time of 144 minutes usually, said films are deep, complex dramas which are clearly shooting for Oscars and hoping to wring tears from their audiences. Why would a raucous, quirky Taiwanese comedy need that much screen-time to tell its actually very slight story about a cooking competition? Zone Pro Site has its own unique answer to that question. While it's true that an hour could probably be quite easily carved out of the film without losing sense of character or plot, it also feels churlish to suggest the edit. It would be akin to stomping on the sweetest, silliest turtle in the world.
Wan (Kimi Hsia) is the daughter of the late Master Fly Spirit (Ko Yi- Cheng), one of a trio of legendary mobile chefs: culinary masters who whip up banquets on demand (a tradition known as 'ban doh'), wherever they're asked to go. Saddled with an unfortunate debt, Wan abandons her dreams of being a model in Taipei to move home where her well-meaning mother Ai Fong (Lin Mei-Hsiu) is struggling to keep a restaurant afloat while possessing precisely none of her husband's skills or recipes. With the help of her mother and gourmet 'doctor' Hai (Tony Yang), Wan decides to take part in a ban doh competition the outcome of which will be determined by the involvement of her father's mysterious contemporaries, Masters Ghost Head (King Jieh-Wen) and Silly Mortal (Wu Nian-Jen).
That is, genuinely, it. Zone Pro Site has no greater narrative ambitions, preferring instead to give full rein to its characters as they muddle their way through the competition. They're patently not qualified to take part in anything, but this is the kind of movie in which piffling things like logic don't really matter. For the most part, it's easy enough to suspend disbelief, although viewers might find their patience wearing dangerously thin by the time the outlandishly quirky judges buried beneath layers of over-the-top slapstick arrive on the scene to decide if Wan and her team have what it takes to win the competition.
Get stuck on Zone Pro Site's lack of either logic or credibility and you probably won't enjoy it very much. But give it a chance, and you'll find that it coasts by on a wealth of sweet, nostalgic charm, fuelled by a genuinely appealing and funny cast. Hsia's role is pretty standard perky girl discovers her true calling while falling in love but she manages to make Wan adorable without being annoying. Lin is a gift of a comic actress: thoroughly willing to go as far as necessary to pull off a gag. Even Yang, so stonily forgettable in David Loman, is hilarious as Hai, whose awkward accent and turns of phrase (a character choice) ensure that he doesn't just float by as a pretty face.
Did Zone Pro Site need to stretch across a leisurely 144 minutes? Not really. But there's something to be said for the fact that it never overstays its welcome at least, not until the very end. The film trundles along with such a healthy helping of love, silliness and nostalgia for a fast-disappearing Taiwanese tradition that it's impossible to begrudge it for taking a little too long to tell its story.
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