Food, being one of the essential components of human life, is something that is seldom absent from movies. Sometimes the whole plot revolves around it, every morsel adding flavour to the story.
While food-themed movies are not specific to any particular part of the world, in this list we’ll take a look at the ones produced in Asia. Give the movies below (arranged by year) a try the next time you’re looking for mouth-watering Asian-flavoured titles to savour.
“Eat Drink Man Woman” (1994)
Renowned director Ang Lee wrote and helmed this Oscar-nominated comedy drama, which revolves around a Chinese family in 1990s Taipei. The father, a senior chef named Mr. Chu, prepares an extravagant banquet for his three unmarried daughters every Sunday. It is at this dining table that the daughters make their announcements to their father, which include changes in their romantic lives. The family’s living situation begins changing as new relationships blossom.
“Café Seoul” (2009)
Before Kim Dong-wook was a deceased soldier facing underworld trials in “Along with the Gods”, he was a pâtissier in this Korean-Japanese co-production. The “Coffee Prince” actor is joined by Kim Jung-hoon (“Goong”) and Choi Sung-min (“Big Sister”), all three playing brothers that become distant after their parents’ death. They rediscover the meaning of family and love when they have to reunite and stop their family’s bakery from being closed down. Directed by Masaharu Take, famed actor Takumi Saito also stars in the movie as Jung-hoon’s character’s friend
“Nasi Lemak 2.0″ (2011)
A low budget movie by the infamous Malaysian filmmaker-rapper Namewee – you either love him or loathe him for his controversies – which made about seven times its roughly RM1 million budget at the local box office when it was released in 2011. Starring himself along with Malaysian notables like Adibah Noor, Afdlin Shauki, David Arumugam, Reshmonu and Karen Kong, the story follows Namewee as a struggling chef who is helping Karen’s Xiao K to win a cooking contest so her father can retain ownership of his famous Chinese restaurant.
“Claypot Curry Killers” (2011)
Another movie brewed in Malaysia’s melting pot of cultures. Though it’s probably best not to eat anything while watching this horror thriller directed and penned by James Lee. Customers that frequent Mrs. Chew’s restaurant, which she runs with her three daughters, often enjoy the titular curry dish that’s made from a secret family recipe. Envious of their success, a chef from a rival restaurant hires thugs to steal the recipe, leading to a horrific discovery.
“The Lunchbox” (2013)
The late Irrfan Khan starred in this BAFTA-nominated romantic film as Saajan, a widowed accountant who is about to retire. After Saajan mistakenly receives a lunchbox that Ila (Nimrat Kaur) has made for her husband in hopes of getting his attention, an explanation letter from the young housewife sparks a continuous flow of messages between the two of them. Their friendship blossoms as they continue exchanging letters that discuss their lives. Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, other cast members include Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Denzil Smith.
“Sayang Disayang” (2013)
Though there’s no mention of it in the title, the film revolves around sambal goreng, a traditional dish that causes much grieve to caregiver Murni as her employer, a bitter old man named Pak Harun, often berates her for not being able to make it exactly as his late wife used to. This Sanif Olek-helmed drama was selected as Singapore’s Best Foreign Language Film submission to the 87th Academy Awards, the country’s first Malay language film bestowed the honour.
“Midnight Diner” (2014)
Ask for whatever you want, Master (Kaoru Kobayashi) will make it. As long as he has the ingredients, that is. The Joji Matsuoka-helmed movie is based on Yarō Abe’s manga of the same name (“Shinya Shokudō” in its original Japanese) and centred on a diner that’s open only from midnight until 7am daily. The cook, known simply as The Master, finds a burial urn at his shop one day. The rest of the movie, involving his regulars, unfolds around the finding. The movie received positive reviews and a similarly tasteful sequel, “Midnight Diner 2”, was released in 2016.
“Cook Up A Storm” (2017)
Its Chinese title literally translates to “Clash of the Culinary Gods”, very descriptive of the plot: two chefs battling each other in a cooking competition. Directed by Raymond Yip, the movie stars Nicholas Tse as Chinese chef Sky Ko and Jung Yong-hwa (leader of Korean band CNBLUE) as Korean chef Paul Ahn. Sky spent years training to become a great chef after being abandoned by a father who chose culinary career over fatherhood, while Paul promised his dying father he would become a great cook and is now a Michelin-starred chef trained in France.
“Ramen Teh” (2018)
Alternatively called “Ramen Shop”, this Singaporean-Japanese-French film is directed by Eric Khoo and features a familiar face – the same Takumi Saito mentioned seven entries above. This time he leads the cast as young ramen chef Masato. Following his father’s death, Masato finds a notebook left behind by his Singaporean mother, who passed away when he was 10. He leaves his job in Takasaki, Japan, and travels to Singapore to find out more about his family’s past. There, he meets his Singaporean relatives, his Uncle Wee (Mark Lee) who runs a bak kut teh shop and his grandmother Madam Lee, and connects with them through cooking.
“Aruna & Lidahnya” (2018)
Dian Sastrowardoyo and Nicholas Saputra, together best known as the star couple of “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta”, reunite in this Indonesian drama adapted from Laksmi Pamuntjak’s novel of the same name and directed by Edwin, whom Nicholas also teamed up with for “Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2018: Journey”. It follows the titular epidemiologist and food lover who embarks on a culinary journey while investigating an outbreak of avian flu in several Indonesian cities. The food-laden movie has been praised for bringing more recognition to the country’s local dishes.