Two of the most dominant themes in Eric Khoo’s filmography are food (and particularly the hawker stalls) and the eternal antagonism between the international and the local, the modern and the traditional if you prefer. In his episode of HBO Asia’s “Foodlore”, he gets to explore both in the most eloquent way.
Food Lore is available on HBO Asia and HBO
Julie, a French young woman, works as an assistant chef in a high-class French restaurant in Singapore. Her life, however, is not easy, since she has to face a rather obnoxious higher-up, Pierre. Julie wants to show her value to the chef, but Pierre continuously pins her down, while her social life in the country is practically non-existent. This however, changes when on a night out with her colleagues, she has a rather episodic meeting with Irfan, the owner of a hawker stall. Irfan has his own issues to face, since his wife has left him with a young daughter to raise by himself, while his mother, who is the main cooker of their stall, is about to retire and pressures him to learn her trade. Through their acquaintance, the two youths will face their problems through their exploration of local and international cuisine and inevitably, come closer together.
The fact that both characters function as the personification of the issues I mentioned in the prologue (Julie the international and Irfan the local) becomes quite evident in the film, and actually works very well in the narrative, allowing Eric Khoo to present an ideal solution to this eternal clash. Furthermore, the fact that both have issues with their parents, which they solve through their interaction, also works quite well, adding another level to the story. The build-up of the romance, which again, is instigated by food, is patient and realistic, but in essence is placed in the background, just as an additional element to the entertainment the title offers, a tactic that I found beneficial for the overall aesthetics of “Tamarind”. The overall progression of the story could be perceived as somewhat too ideal, but Khoo seemed to have diagnosed the fact and solved it in the finale.
Furthermore, the movie also functions as a tour guide/documentary about the local cuisine and particularly the hawker stalls, in a fashion that will definitely make the spectator want to visit Singapore. This aspect benefits the most by the excellent cinematography by Keong Low, which allows Eric Khoo to present the food in all its glory, from the buying of ingredients from the market to the final serving, through a very fitting mid-tempo, implemented by Koh Chong Wu’s editing. Furthermore, Valentine Payen-Wicaksono’s undeniable beauty also becomes a significant part of the visual aspect, with the camera focusing on her a number of times. Particularly the close up to her eyes over the stall table will definitely remain in the memory of any viewer.
Payen-Wicaksono as Julie and Firdaus Rahman as Irfan are quite good in their roles, highlighting both their discomforts and their joy equally artfully, with their chemistry being evident in every scene they are together. Dominique Husken-Ulbrich as Pierre is excellent as the “villain” of the story, occasionally stealing the show with his performance.
“Tamarind” will let you enjoy a beautiful and well-shot story while raising your appetite, and I think there is nothing more one could ask from a film revolving around food.