Movie Review: Chinese Restaurants
BY MARK HARRIS
In Vancouver, we’re used to getting the short end of the cultural stick in regards to just about everything except unlimited access to great Chinese food. Chinese Restaurants: On the Islands deals with cultures that, although blessed with certain desirable commodities that we demonstrably lack (such as endless sun, sky, and warm ocean water), are not known for their Middle Kingdom eating emporia.
Director Cheuk Kwan (who will be at the Pacific Cinémathèque to introduce this VIFF favourite, as well as two newer culinary excursions, Chinese Restaurants: Three Continents and Chinese Restaurants: Song of the Exile, investigations of his favourite subject in Madagascar, Canada, and Norway, and Israel, Turkey, and South Africa, respectively) decided to find out what Sichuan-trained palates could expect from the Chinese restaurateurs of Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba. In addition to sampling their situationally exotic dishes, he also wanted to find out how the owners of these establishments related to their host communities.
For the armchair traveller, the filmmaker’s discoveries are nothing short of fascinating. Whether it’s finding the right costume to wear at Carnival or trying to keep the rapidly evaporating memory of Cuba’s Barrio Chino alive, Kwan’s interview subjects respond to his slyly incisive questions in an always revealing manner. In the process, we learn some surprising home truths about these doubly hybrid communities (in both the linguistic and the culinary sense of the term).
Oh, yes: if you are planning to see any of these movies, make sure you make a reservation at a Chinese restaurant for post-screening conversations. Believe you me, these docs will give you an appetite.
Georgia Straits, May 5, 2005, Movie Reviews