What lengths will a nobody go to become somebody? Netflix’s new film Hunger explores that question through field of fine dining in Thailand, crafting a thrilling satire that charts a talented rookie’s brutal journey to culinary stardom.
Played by Chutimon ‘Aokbab’ Chuengcharoensukying (of Bad Genius fame), Aoy is a cook at her family’s humble noodle stall who gets talent-spotted by Tone (Gunn Svasti), the sous chef of Hunger, a distinguished private chef team led by the brilliant yet borderline abusive Chef Paul (Nopachai Jayanama). Under Paul’s merciless mentorship and through baptisms by fire feeding the one per cent of Thai society – generals, new-money crypto bros and influencers – Aoy eventually becomes a formidable chef in her own right. But at what cost?
Hunger was directed by Sitisiri ‘Dome’ Mongkolsiri, who has directed episodes of the hit Thai series Girl From Nowhere and in 2019 saw his supernatural horror movie Sang Krasue (Inhuman Kiss) selected as Thailand’s entry for the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category. NME meets Dome in Seoul to talk about getting to grips with the world of fine-dining to make Hunger, its satirical and horror elements and more.
Hunger is landing a pretty good time for intense stories about food and society like The Menu and The Bear. Did you have your eye on these other productions when you were making Hunger?
“Many people have commented that it seemed similar to The Menu. It’s not a copy of those because this was written two years ago, before those shows came out. In the past two years, the food industry has undergone a renaissance and there is more commentary about it. Nowadays, I wouldn’t be surprised if more filmmakers come back and refocus on this subject.”
Your history in horror with Inhuman Kiss and Last Summer comes through in some fantastic scenes in Hunger. Can you explain your decision to bring some horror elements into the movie?
“For me, the word ‘horror’ doesn’t mean it has to have ghosts. It can just be a feeling of fear. One of my themes in past movies is that humanity is scarier than ghosts. That’s my horror.”
That is true in this movie. And to be specific about the horror references, in the ‘flesh and blood’-themed banquet, you have a scene where they’re eating and it looks like blood dripping down their faces – it reminded me of the show Hannibal. And the red light in the final scene with Chef Paul reminded me of Suspiria. Did you have specific references when it came to shooting these scenes in Hunger?
“I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from watching other movies. I’ve absorbed it all within me without even realising it. So on shooting day, what I can do is try and interpret the words in the best way that I can into the film.
“I don’t necessarily copy scenes from other things. In the scenes I make, I put myself in there, collect a lot of experiences and try to recreate it the way I want.”
“Humanity is scarier than ghosts. That’s my horror”
What was it like to work with Kongdej Jaturanrasamee on this film? He’s a screenwriter on Hunger, but also a filmmaker in his own right.
“We’ve been collaborating for about 10 years now. Kongdej is one of the top writers in Thailand and I’m honoured to have been able to work with him and learn from him. I’ve really enjoyed following his scripts and his movies. Our interaction is more of a sibling type of relationship rather than just coworkers. The great thing about Kongdej is he’s also a director and producer, but he’s given me the freedom to do it my own way.”
The social commentary in Hunger might remind international audiences of some other movies or shows but it’s also strongly tied to Thailand and very local. How long have you been thinking about the messages you want to send in this movie?
“The script was written about two years ago and there were certain news events that happened at the time. It was a reflective mechanism to include those in the movie. There’s been a lot of news about people not caring about the law and corruption: the rich being able to escape from any repercussions.
“So it made me ask: what are these people hungry for? If they are so rich and they have everything, why do they still want these things? There is also the group of people who want to be that level of rich and powerful. I also questioned: what kind of ambition or hunger do you need to reach that level? These are just themes I saw around me when I was writing the script at the time.”
You worked with a fine dining chef in Thailand for the research process and your cast also went through training – they went behind the scenes at a restaurant, even. What was your own research and pre-production process like?
“I am a foodie but don’t have any cooking knowledge. So I had to learn everything, from the skills to the theory, in western and Thai cooking. So when the actors were being students, I was also a student myself.
“For the actors, they had to go through learning how to become a chef, but they don’t use it to become a chef – they use it to understand what the whole system is like. That way when they actually make the movie they don’t have to be particularly worried about it. My goal is really to understand what the person is going through emotionally, not how to slice something.”
You’ve spoken of having a great experience working with Netflix on this movie. Can you tell us anything about your future projects with Netflix – and can you say anything about Girl From Nowhere?
“Not yet! I have a really good relationship with Netflix, and I have more stories I want to tell. So you’re just going to have to wait.”
Hunger streams on Netflix April 8