‘Heavy Craving’: Layers and Layers to Digest
At first glance, director Hsieh Pei-ju’s Heavy Craving seems to suggest a drama centered around food–that much can be presumed by the film’s hunger-inducing title. But that pretense suddenly drops as the movie starts off by following a woman jogging. “I know my happiness is in my own hands. Let’s make our way to better selves,” says the voiceover, as a beautiful, physically-fit woman sets the standard for ideal body types. Compare that to the introduction of Golden Horse Best New Performer nominee Tsai Jia-Yin, who plays the heavy-set Yingjuan. Yingjuan is first shown pathetically buying out all of the pudding at the grocery store–instantly juxtaposed against this deification of beauty. However, she isn’t buying pudding for herself; it is for her students at her mom’s daycare. Strange looks from passerby and an altercation with a pushy salesperson from Action Wellness weight loss company sets the stage for the world that she inhabits. Not unlike in our own reality, Yingjuan is constantly being misunderstood and judged at first sight due to her heavy build. Through Yingjuan’s eyes, social commentary about the negative effects of societal norms in Taiwan is explored, with an added touch of humor.
Writer-director Hsieh Pei-ju delicately balances a realistic world that borders on cheesiness and fantasy. Utilizing flashbacks, impossible scenarios, and over-the-top acting, Hsieh’s film seems to switch genres frequently, jumping from one mood to another in an instant. In one such case, a heartwarming scene where kids are hugging Yingjuan in the school kitchen ends up taking a dark turn as she erupts in anger when she accidentally cuts herself. The scene ends coldly with her being yelled at by her mother, taking the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster. Another comedic moment (with, albeit, dark undertones) is when a delivery man relays a company slogan to Yingjuan almost robotically–as if social self-consciousness doesn’t exist in this world. These dark undertones paired with the film’s bright colors lead to a disorienting experience. However, the main character’s boisterous attitude provides the anchor for the film’s whimsical tendencies. Tsai’s subtle performance, which ranges from depicting internal turmoil in the midst of heartbreak to feigning as a normal person just trying to fit in, makes the scenarios seem grounded.
One thing the movie does successfully is bringing up topics of bravery and challenging stereotypes in a present-day metropolis like Taipei. Yingjuan forms an unexpected friendship with a young cross-dresser (Chang En-Wei), a similar social outcast, who desires to stay hidden about his actions to his mother. If not for Yingjuan’s encouragement, he would not have the courage to flaunt his feminine side in public. Romance is also in the picture, and Yingjuan is able to find herself in a relationship with a guy who likes her for who she is. This subplot accentuates the glowing nature she has, proving how happy she can be even when society tells her otherwise–a lesson that even she fails to recognize, although it is obvious to the viewer.
In the end, lessons are learned and warm feelings are felt, but this movie leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. There are no winners or losers, just a call to live within the bounds of broken reality much like our own. While the film ends on a happy note, the audience is left scratching their head at the bittersweet ending. The protagonist’s problems still exist, save for a few hopeful hints of change. Consequently, Heavy Craving barely eeks out a message that all are privy to hear–to be yourself, even in a condescending world.
Rating: 3 / 5
This film was screened as part of the 2020 New York Asian Film Festival.