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The Wandering Chef

Asian Cinema, Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The Wandering Chef is the kind of left-field, ethereal pleasure only found at film festivals: a documentary on a chef who roams the country, monk-like in his devotion to the search for rare ingredients. Less an exhibition of culinary pyrotechnics, this is more an expression of food as an experience, rooted in culture and tradition.

The subject, Im Jiho, is also a fascinating and compelling individual. Implicit in his solitary journeys is a rejection of modern society and contentment with loneliness unusual in Korea’s collective culture; yet he is also emotionally vulnerable and generous-hearted. The film transports him from rural Korea to international cooking shows and back again, but you get the sense Im is most in his element engaging in earthy banter with other Koreans – usually elderly – on folk remedies. One of the film’s pleasures is watching him get excited about an obscure wild herb and list its medicinal properties, and the scene in which he debates whether moss can or cannot be eaten is a highlight. Im’s vocation draws him close to forgotten, timeless lifestyles: the weather-beaten haenyeo (female divers) of Jeju, and a grandfather hauling stones on his back to a mountainside home. This is as much an ode to Korea’s wild landscapes, with casually stunning cinematography to match, as it is a cooking documentary.

One would have been perfectly happy for The Wandering Chef to be a visual encyclopedia on Korean cuisine and ingredients. However, first-time director Hye Ryeong Park, who filmed the documentary over the span of several years, chooses to push the material in a more narrative direction. The film gravitates increasingly towards Im’s friendship with an elderly lady and her husband, treating it as a quasi-redemptive arc. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it is deeply touching, and adds depth to Im as a character. It’s just that everything else comes to feel increasingly peripheral, and out of place structurally.

While not quite the out-and-out masterpiece it had the potential to be, The Wandering Chef is still a terrific heart-warmer, captivating in its detail, and a reminder that all the world’s great cuisines are the accumulation of informal knowledge and folk tradition.

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A Dog Called Money

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Two-time Mercury Award-winning musician PJ Harvey is an artist less interested in producing hard-bodied rock’n’roll anthems than she is addressing the plight of those living without privilege.

To draw parallels in Harvey’s career with Bob Dylan would misinterpret her bold lyricism as being songs of protest – a notion that Harvey would sooner shake off than she would rest on her shoulders like a guitar strap.

A Dog Called Money documents Harvey as an artist now, and follows her journey ‘collecting lyrics’ for her 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project.

The journey, which takes her to the streets of Afghanistan and Washington DC, highlights a political discourse through its documentation of the negative impact western influence – mainly American – has on the quality of life of people throughout the world.

It is here where director Seamus Murphy harmoniously intertwines footage of Harvey’s experiences on the streets with her work in the recording studio; allowing Harvey to demonstrate her musical virtuoso by translating the mood of the people into lyrics and sound.

Witnessing Harvey as an artist at work is spellbinding. Pundits in the film, fortunate enough to watch Harvey create music, are left captivated as she intricately weaves profound lyrics with beautiful tones that are delicately ethereal yet brutally haunting.

There is a fine line trodden in A Dog Called Money’s exploitation of misfortune, with Harvey being the first to acknowledge her own privilege standing in expensive sandals in a house recently occupied by people who had to flee. Murphy is effective in his ability to establish Harvey’s intentions as not being commercially motivated, allowing the musician’s unassuming demeanour to carry through in front of the lens and not present her actions as something colonial.

Capturing the humanity of people living in war-torn and impoverished areas, A Dog Called Money is a conscientious and raw documentary that verges on visual album.

A Dog Called Money is also playing at the Revelation Film Festival Perth in July.