“Hunger” Shows the Flipside of Gordon Ramsay-like Fame

Despite on-the-nose dialogue and visual presentation, the moral development in “Hunger” makes it worth a watch.


Noah McBrien, Staff Writer

Fame and fortune are looked upon with awe. “Hunger,” a 2023 Taiwanese film directed by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, sees the attention and calls it what it is: an obsession with being special. For this, as well as its thematic progression as it occurs to its main character, I enjoyed “Hunger.”

In her twenties, Aoy (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) has taken over her family’s stir-fried noodles restaurant in Bangkok. She doesn’t belong to a wealthy family, nor do her friends, but her fortune changes when she’s invited to leave the family business and join Hunger, Thailand’s first-overall luxury team of chefs led by the enigmatic genius of Chef Paul (Nopachai Chaiyanam). 

After browsing the team’s website, she’s convinced that to be a part of the team is to be truly special. But, once on the team, her conflict with Chef Paul’s dictates only grows stronger as he takes on worse and worse customers. 

One of Chef Paul’s infamous phrases is, “The more you eat, the hungrier you get.” That, as well as the opening where we see a picnic of wealthy families dine on vibrant lobster with a gray, oil-like sauce, reveals a motif that’s present for almost the entire runtime: opulence.

Scenes where high-ranking generals with seemingly too much money, along with their sycophants dining on meat slathered in a blood-red sauce that trickles down their faces as they eat are contrasted with the tranquil yet dreary moments of Aoy’s poverty-stricken home.

Combining this with the advertising of Chef Paul’s team as one to make any girl in Aoy’s position “special” is telling of how any person in her position feels relative to the flashy elite, reminiscent of how one would feel scrolling through Instagram and finding enviable celebrity photos of grandiose manors or top-of-the-line fashion products.

In both of these examples, though, they lacked subtlety. The movie was too obvious with what it was trying to say, and the result was I felt overburdened instead of engaged.

Chef Paul’s expression, no matter the situation, is straight and serious. There is no change, regardless of whether a fan is taking a selfie with him or he is reprimanding his junior chefs. On one hand, it is a tribute to Chaiyanam’s acting. On the other, it is a way of expressing the character’s attitude toward his customers as well as his livelihood in general. As Chef Paul would say, “What you eat is only a sign of your social status.”

Despite Chaiyanam’s character seemingly being one-note, he varies Chef Paul’s expressions and mannerisms well enough to differentiate between the character’s moods but not too much to stray too far from the character. Such is the case when Paul brings the tension up by demanding that whoever stole the Wagyu beef amongst the chefs come forward, threatening that somebody no matter the result is going to lose their livelihood. In another instance, he offers his life story to Aoy while in the hospital and brings her to tears. Overall, I liked his performance. 

Chuengcharoensukying’s performance as Aoy is superb. Her character is differentiated and convincing in her willingness to commit to such an intense lifestyle of even sleeping on the kitchen floor after a night of attempting to perfectly fry steak while also remembering what she is giving up in the process of climbing the social ladder as a member of Hunger. Her character is the center of the movie, as she traverses the multiple parts of her life, including her brief but memorable romance with her mentor Chef Tone (Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya). 

Having a life such as the one Ayo is developing or Chef Paul already possesses is likely to bring someone to their brink, and it does in a Western-style, showdown sequence where she is serving more and more extravagant meals at the party of a woman akin to one of the Kardashian’s to compete with a mystery chef. It comes down to the dichotomy between Chef Paul, who gave up any idea that what he is doing is for a greater purpose, and Aoy, who still seeks a meaningful life– a drive that Paul lost long ago.

These ideas are brought together by the cinematography as well. In one instance, it captures spoiled kids who flaunt their wealth in a seaside, influencer-worthy mansion feasting on brightly-colored grub they have no appreciation for as it is smeared across their faces. In another, it focuses on Aoy while she is in the Hunger kitchen, late at night, tossing steak into the air with her frying pan as the oven’s flames rise to an alarming height. Her silhouette against the backdrop of a section of the kitchen, lit up by the white overhead light, contrasts the dark, stainless steel of the kitchen with the bright red of the flame, conveying her fiery passion for becoming the best chef she can be.

However, specific lines of dialogue felt forced, particularly in a conversation between Aoy and her friends early in the film. One exchange that captures the entire scene is:

Chef Paul’s advertising for the Hunger team that included pitches along the lines of, “Food that will turn you into someone special,” felt unrealistic and ham-fisted. It was a case of telling instead of showing. Another time this happens is when Chef Paul is discussing Aoy’s future after she successfully becomes an independent chef, saying, ” From now on… Your only thoughts will be… ‘When will I fall off the edge?’ ‘Am I getting old?’ ‘Am I a has-been now?'”

That was just one of many examples in that conversation of Paul telling Aoy and the audience something that could’ve been shown. For example, if we were to see Aoy genuinely struggle with her identity being tied to her fandom as a chef, such as her obsessing over social media posts about her or lashing out when a customer insults her and it’s recorded, posted and gains traction. All of those would function in the same way, and make Paul less robotic without the preachy dialogue. 

When the rich were eating, the film’s ideas felt too surface-level and on the nose. But, when getting into the implications of Chef Paul’s upbringing – why he is the way he is – and Aoy’s internal struggle of deciding between a life of luxury without meaning and one with meaning but without the luxury, the movie was at its best. “Hunger” is available on Netflix now. 3/5