Given its similarities to Mark Mylod’s 2022 thriller The Menu, it’s easy to lump Hunger together with the recent raft of eat-the-rich satires that range from Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness to Mike White’s heavily memed The White Lotus. The resemblance, however, is only at surface level. Set in a deeply hierarchical and corrupt society, Hunger at its core deals with base human desires and the lengths some are willing to go to to get what they want – and the consequences they ultimately face.
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The film, helmed by Sang Krasue (Inhuman Kiss) director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, follows an ambitious young hawker-stall cook named Aoy (Chutimon ‘Aokbab’ Chuengcharoensukying) and her tumultuous journey after accepting an invitation to join Hunger, the prestigious private chef team led by ruthless and irascible Chef Paul (Nopachai Jayanama). While the premise may already appeal to those who enjoy watching MasterChef or any of the Gordon Ramsay’s TV franchises, Hunger is less about a celebrity chef putting an aspiring cook through the wringer and more about their shared drive to escape the circumstances of their lives and become ‘somebody’.
As the firstborn of her family, Aoy has to “bear the eldest child’s burden” of taking on the family business and being a second parent to her two younger siblings. In her friends’ eyes, though, she’s lucky because unlike them, she doesn’t have to work a 9 to 5 job for “scraps”. One friend voices a collective despair felt by her generation, speaking volumes about the hopelessness of living in a stratified, materialistic society: “I used to think I’d change the world after graduation. And look where we are. Grinding away in life with no prospects.”
Having come from the same working-class background, Chef Paul learned about class privilege the hard way and came to harbour contempt for the rich from a young age. “Food represents social status, not love… To me, food made with love doesn’t exist,” he tells Aoy. His disdain for the upper classes drove him to work hard to earn the title of ‘the high priest of fine dining’, but it also turned him into the very thing he despises.
As Aoy navigates the social hierarchy within the male-dominated kitchen, she grows closer to Tone (Gunn Svasti), the team’s sous chef who discovered her and became her mentor. Under Chef Paul’s tight rein, they cook for all sorts of VIPs, including crypto brats and illegal poachers. The latter (seemingly inspired by actual events) proves a bit too much for Aoy, who throws in the apron and seeks out Tos (Varit Leesavan), a hotshot restaurateur who promises to make her Thailand’s new culinary star.
Hunger’s third act puts us right in the conflict between the two protagonists. With some orchestrating on Tone’s part, Aoy and Chef Paul reconvene for a final showdown at an opulent birthday bash. Ego clashes as they each rustle up their pièce de résistance, to the delight of elites in garish costume. Once the dust settles, we’re left with the question: has the student finally become the master?
Despite its didactic tendencies (like Aoy’s dad’s comment on overpriced coffee: “I don’t get the modern world”) and the occasional on-the-nose metaphor (the ‘flesh and blood’ themed banquet served at a general’s dinner party), Hunger successfully delves into the human psyche, exposing our intrinsic desires for wealth, status and acceptance at whatever cost. In doing so, it also underscores society’s widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and how privilege is routinely normalised and exploited. With its thought-provoking social commentary and carefully calibrated performances from its cast, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more poignant Thai film than Hunger this year.
- Director: Sitisiri Mongkolsiri
- Starring: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Nopachai Jayanama, Gunn Svasti
- Release date: April 8 (Netflix)