Hsiao Wenhua, MFA, Graduate Institute of Theater Performance and Playwriting, National Taipei University of the Arts
Zone Pro Site (2013) is director Chen Yuxun’s follow-up to Tropical Fish (1995) and Love Go Go (1997). Produced by Li Lie and Ye Rufen, the film is looks at Taiwan’s traditional pān-toh (“setting out tables”) culture, the custom of putting on open-air banquets to celebrate marriages and other festive events. The subject matter and simple, straightforward plot combine to create a distinctive magical-realist cinematic experience. A box-office hit, the film sparked renewed interest in traditional Taiwanese culture.
Tsóng-phòo is the Taiwanese (Holo) term for “chef”; when the honorific -sai (“master”) is appended, it becomes a term of respect for one skilled in the culinary arts, and a guarantee that the food he or she prepares is of the highest quality. The master chef oversees preparation of banquet foods and the order in which they are served, and is thus responsible for a dinner party’s success or failure. Zone Pro Site (an English transliteration of “tsóng-phòo-sai”) touches on the pān-toh tradition’s decline without sadness or grief, adding elements of Chinese knight-errantry and fantasy to the mix. Three legendary banquet chefs – “Man,” “Ghost,” and “God,” representing north, central, and south Taiwan respectively – advance the plot and tie the story together, bringing new meaning to Taiwan’s pān-toh culture.
Female protagonist Zhan Xiaowan (Xia Yuqiao) is the daughter of storied southern Taiwan banquet chef, Hôo-sîn-sai (hôo-sîn is Taiwanese for “housefly”). In pursuit of a childhood dream of stardom, she moves to Taipei, but returns home after her boyfriend skips out on his debts. In Tainan she lives with her mother, Phòng-hong-só (literally, “big brother’s bloviating better half”), who runs a noodle stand. And so, Xiao Wan – who has never so much as boiled water – sets out to become a banquet chef. After coming under the tutelage of mystery-man Ye Ruhai (Yang Youning) and the three fabled tsóng-phòo-sai, Xiao Wan’s culinary skills gradually improve. Ultimately, she is invited to take part in an “international pān-toh cooking competition,” where her tshài-bué-thng – a stew made of leftovers, an ordinary Taiwanese dish – takes second place.
Zone Pro Site combines “Taiwanese-ness” with magical-realist comedy, presenting local eating culture in a narrative style reminiscent of comic books and video games. Rhymed Taiwanese (Holo) accounts for much of the dialogue, but Taiwanese Mandarin also contributes to the wordplay – for example, a dish is named “Ou Xiang Yao Ni,” a phonetic approximation of the Mandarin phrase “I want you” (Wo xiang yao ni). Trendy Internet usages also appear; thus, the film appeals to Taiwanese moviegoers of all ages. Two songs – “Silly A-Hua” which Ye Ruhai sings over and over, and Phòng-hong-só’s “Ain’t Got No Husband Now” – were respective contenders for the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival’s “Best Soundtrack” and “Best Original Song” awards. A popular success, Zone Pro Site is Taiwanese cinematic comedy at its best.
|Related Literary Themes：||Food in Literature|