Reel Asian 2020 – Taste of Pho Review

Each year I look forward to film festival season. Each year I try to attend festivals such as TIFF, Inside Out, ImagineNATIVE, and Reel Asian in some capacity. However, this year has been vastly different compared to last year. Festivals have moved to digital platforms and so there’s a possibility of piracy issues or technical issues. Despite all that, these films are bringing some light in a somewhat odd and difficult year for many. 

Last week I attended Reel Asian 2020. Their entire week of programming was online this year, from Nov. 12th to 19th. Their films were available to view starting Nov. 12th and once you started a film you had 48 hours to finish it. There was bonus content like live Q&As available to watch. Overall, the experience went smoothly and was easy to use. It made me feel like I was back in a theatre.

One of the films I watched was The Taste of Pho. This Polish and Vietnamese film follows a Vietnamese cook in Warsaw, struggling to adjust to European culture. His boss sells the restaurant and moves back to Vietnam. The new owner upscales it to Sushi and Thai, and the cook has to learn new skills to keep his job. He also struggles to raise his daughter alone. She’s ashamed of being part Vietnamese and of their financial situation. It’s a poignant story about love, culture, misunderstandings, and food.

I liked the idea behind the story. I’m a sucker for stories about Asian father-daughter dynamics and about learning to love your culture. I related a lot to his daughter, as I was once like her, dumping the lunch that my dad cooked and being ashamed of my culture. There were moments in the film that made me reflect on my own life. 

I enjoyed the idea of the story, but I wanted more. The relationship between the father and daughter could have been explored more, as the resolution to their differences were too quick. There wasn’t a lot of dialogue between them, which makes sense, since a lot of Asian family dynamics are more action than words. I wanted more purposeful actions that said something about their relationship, like how he makes her lunch, while she throws out her lunch secretly.

I didn’t understand the ‘relationship’ with the father and a woman that lives in the same building. Their relationship starts off rough as he tries to give back a glove she dropped, but she mistakes it for him following her, and calls him a derogatory term for Asians. They rarely interact throughout the film and end with them in a friendship/relationship. The connection between them never builds and feels like a last minute addition to the film.

Overall, it’s not extremely amazing, but it doesn’t have to be because the story is important to tell. The emotions it elicits from someone like me or anyone who can relate to the story, shows the power it has just by telling these types of stories. How it feels to be seen and understood. This provides space for more stories like this, that are more developed.


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