In an array of “eat-the-rich” narratives, “Hunger” attempts to tell a similar tale mixed with the power of passion. From the trailer alone, “Hunger” gives off “The Menu” vibes, adding cultural context through a Thai lens, but unfortunately, it’s neither as entertaining nor as impactful due to its tedious pacing and on-the-nose presentation of the concept. Visually, it is charming, and Bangkok looks as dreamy as ever. The trouble is not the concept but the execution. The director of the hit series “Girl From Nowhere,” Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, brings out his thriller instincts in “Hunger,” drenching it in blood and darkness but failing to pack a punch, unlike the aforementioned series. Personally, I think there should’ve been more cultural involvement in “Hunger” than the blatant display of the class divide in Thailand.
“Hunger” follows Aoy (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), a culinary prodigy who has recently inherited her father’s pad see ew restaurant. Not so well off, the family manages to survive off the income of the restaurant. Then one day, a man invites her to a prestigious restaurant called “Hunger,” led by the High Priest of Thailand’s culinary world, Chef Paul. Aoy, who is initially uninterested, learns about Chef Paul and realizes how “special” he is. She gets chosen to work for him, but soon understands that being “special” comes at a big cost. From then on, the movie follows her as she navigates her dreams and aspirations while having conflicting opinions while working for Chef Paul.
Chutimon does an incredible job at playing the disciplined, hard-working, and compassionate Aoy. Her demeanor and presence exude style, making up for half the movie’s flaws. She is incredibly raw, and her redeeming character arc is something to look forward to in “Hunger.” The “Terence Fletcher” of Bangkok’s chefs, Paul, played by Nopachai Chayanam, is a mephistophelian genius. Nopachai plays the ruthless boss realistically, even if sometimes the essence of his work doesn’t make sense.
A chef who finds pleasure in the rich eating his food and enjoying the spectacle. Tone and Tos are some supportive characters with decent performances, taking a break from the intensity of the face-off between Paul and Aoy. As a pupil who is better than her teacher, when Aoy realizes she doesn’t want to work with Paul anymore because she doesn’t understand the levels he stoops to, she decides to leave and create a venture of her own. Soon, she realizes she herself is becoming another Paul. How will she save herself, and will she, too, succumb to the allure of power?
Littered with witty dialogue that poses important questions such as, Is it the spectacle that brings taste to the food for those who can afford anything? Is it the specialty that makes something expensive, or is the specialty determined by expense? The poor eat to fill their stomachs, but the rich hunger for more. This is the main concept of “Hunger.” To Aoy, working for the rich, bringing unique foods to the table, and learning from Chef Paul was what she thought made her special, but in reality, as she works with him, she realizes that it is her worth and talent that makes her special.
Paul’s hypocrisy is clearly visible when he gives Aoy his reason for becoming a chef for the rich despite ending up living a lifestyle like them himself. The juxtaposition between Paul’s hospital bed and Aoy’s dad’s bed is stark, painting a clear picture for Aoy as to what she needs to do next. When Aoy realizes Paul has moved beyond boundaries in order to keep the rich entertained, she decides to quit working for him and start her own thing. Then Aoy learns that there is a lot to lose to passion. Her striving to be better than Paul makes her more like him day by day.
“Your social status is determined by what you eat.” Visually, Sitisiri brings out this message very clearly in the film. In a scene where the theme of a dinner is “Flesh and Blood,” the guests eat the cooked meat in a dismal manner that brings distaste to the scene, but Paul is found smiling at his guests as they drip red liquid down the sides of their mouths. Choking down ravenously even though these political bigshots have not seen a day of hunger in their lives. Aoy, too, is ravenous for fame. She wants to defeat Paul at his own game, and in the end, she learns that she must do this by presenting her true self to the rich. The difference between Aoy and Paul is that she cooks out of love, while he does it out of spite. Aoy is determined to prove to Paul that love is important in cooking, a belief that has been with her since childhood.
Instead of presenting lavish-looking, mouth-smacking food, Chef Paul’s food always looks unappetizing, his artistic creations showcasing plainly his disdain for his clients. In comparison, Aoy’s “poor” food looks more appetizing and appeals to the eye; this difference is a great way to showcase the divide between Paul and Aoy’s thinking. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else that is nuanced, and a lot of the sequences seem repetitive, making the film feel endless.
Overall, “Hunger” had the potential to do something incredible but fell short by playing it safe. Through her time with Paul and then creating a name for herself, Aoy realizes she is lost and what she was so determined to get for herself was never what she wanted in the first place. Aoy didn’t find Chef Paul herself; she was brought into “Hunger” by Tone, and her journey to finding this answer is great to watch. That itself could’ve been the message of this film. Finding your own path is contextualized through the class divide, making it a little bit of a messy fight between passion and a social message. One that many people might relate to.
If “Hunger” had come out about 2-years ago, the newness of it all would’ve made it rather fun to watch, but with the saturation of anti-capitalistic movies since the pandemic, it falls short of being notable in the said genre. “Hunger” is a drama presented as a thriller, and after a certain point, I started to think there was nothing thrilling about this film, making me often distracted. There is mild profanity and no violence, but there are blood-like liquids and interesting visuals that may make one uncomfortable. Chef Paul is mentally draining, and if you’re not interested in watching a Thai Gordon Ramsay, you can skip this one. There is some slaughtering of animals that may be uncomfortable for some viewers as well. Overall, “Hunger” could’ve been less hungry and more ardent, focusing more on Aoy’s learning than the food Paul makes and how it is devoured. I would give “Hunger” 2.5 plates out of 5 for the great performance by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.