Eric Khoo-helmed “Food Lore” aims to explore a number of social issues throughout Asia, by connecting them with the local cuisines. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang handles the Thai episode, which is quite different from the rest, since it presents a fourth-wall breaking story based on his Folklore Episode “POB“.
Food Lore is available on HBO Asia and HBO
In “POB”, Thomas Burton van Blarcom plays John Conrad, an American who recently moved to Thailand to take over as the new head of an international corporation, and is found with his stomach ripped open, his guts missing, and a piece of cheese in his mouth. The episode deals with the events that led to his death and his interaction with the homonymous ghost. “The Caterer” focuses on the story of Thomas Burton van Blarcom, during the shooting of “POB”.
As the film begins, we watch him barely coping with the country, not being able to handle the heat, but most importantly the food, as we see him being disgusted at the animal blood that seems to fill every dish. Despite the efforts of the line producer and an assistant, his situation worsens and starts taking a toll on his performance, with him not being able to deliver his lines, while he frequently lashes out at the rest of the crew, not being able to contain his dislike for everything local. At some point, he gets sick, but it is at this moment that the assistant “tricks” him into trying a local soup, and everything changes.
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang directs a simple, but very smart film, which, just like “POB”, plays with the concept of the fourth wall, and what is cinema actually. The fact that “The Caterer” is structured much like a documentary, regarding the shooting of “POB”, shooting in Thailand in particular, and local culture, particularly regarding food, but at the same time it is quite obvious that it is a feature, is probably the best aspect of the narrative. Ratanaruang makes this unlikely combination work quite well, both through the editing, but also through the acting, with Parama Wutthikornditsakul, Ratanaruang and van Blarcom as themselves being excellent in this duality, with the same applying to Soros Sukhum as the line producer. Particularly the first is once again hilarious in his inaction, in probably the funniest part of the film along with the whole concept and the extreme turn-around the protagonist exhibits. This last part also provides the main comments of the episode, regarding the impact of food, and how much better it is for a foreigner when he/she adapts to the ways of the country they visit, instead of expecting the country to adapt.
The cinematography also follows this duality, occasionally being documentary-like realistic and occasionally more “implying”, particularly regarding the state of the protagonist. The editing allows the story to unfold through a medium tempo that suits the overall aesthetics quite well.
“The Caterer” is a great effort that highlights Ratanaruang’s smartness and knack for originality. One should watch “POB” first though, in order to appreciate this one fully.