Written by: Tera Kirk
Directed by: Fruit Chan
Cast: Pauline Lau, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Bai Ling, Miriam Chin Wah Yeung, Meme Tian
Mrs. Li (Miriam Chin Wah Yeung) used to be a famous TV star. Now she’s getting older, and desperate to keep her good looks and her husband’s wandering eye. Fortunately, she knows where to find dumplings that are so nutritious they’re rumored to be a veritable fountain of youth–as long as you don’t think too hard about what’s in them.
Originally a short film that was part of Three….Extremes, Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is certainly shocking, but its real strength comes from its characters and beautiful imagery. We sympathize with Ms. Li’s need to make her husband fall in love with her again; Bai Ling is compelling as the mysterious dumpling chef “Aunt” Mei. She’s positively gleeful when extolling her dumplings’ virtues–precisely because of their gruesome secret ingredient. It’s a testament to Ling’s acting that, even though Mei is a terrible person, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. (She won several awards for this performance, and it’s not hard to see why.)
In fact, there’s a gripping beauty to the whole film that is somehow inseparable from the ugly goings-on: Mrs. Li’s bright orange outfit, her husband swimming with his head above water, the loving closeups of food. (Secret ingredient be damned–those dumplings look delicious.) When the camera pans over Mei’s collection of knickknacks, my eye lingers on an old, crusty Hello Kitty figurine–still cute in its way, but corrupted by age and filth.
Dumplings is an impressive expansion of an already-great short film. Maybe all the focus on preparing and eating pads the running time, but it still manages to make the audience both disgusted and hungry. Dumplings is a cinematic feast, even if you want to throw up afterwards.