For a country that is abundant with various cuisines, there sure is a shortage of movies that revolve around our food.
When you think of movies that will satiate your soul but make your stomach grumble angrily, we tend to think of movies like Chef, Ratatouille, Julie & Julia and even that cooking scene from Goodfellas.
But what about our films? Are there any films within our local film scene that can evoke that same hunger?
On a whim, I decided to watch Kongsi Raya on Netflix without knowing anything about the plot other than the fact that it features Malaysian food.
What I got in the end was a delightful romantic-comedy told exquisitely in three languages (Malay, Cantonese and English) that not only made me laugh, cry and swoon but also rush downstairs to my fridge like a squalor rat to see what I could eat.
So, here are several reasons why you should watch Kongsi Raya and why I believe this movie serves up more than we anticipate it to.
What is Kongsi Raya about?
Malay girlboss, Sharifah, is the daughter to a popular celebrity chef and she acts as the producer on his hit TV show.
Chinese apprentice chef, Jack, is next in line to inherit and continue the legacy of a famous Chinese restaurant that has been passed down for generations.
They meet on a bus, fall in love and have been together for a year before finally deciding that it’s time to tell their parents about the relationship.
For those aware of the intricacies of an interracial relationship, you can probably guess that this task is easier said than done.
From there, some truly ridiculous hijinks ensue, racking up laughs, tears and hungry bellies.
Why is Kongsi Raya so special?
I am sick of watching movies about hoity-toity French cuisine where they serve you a plate of fillet fish the size of a baby’s fist decorated with leaves and small polkadots made out of artisanal jam.
That is not enough for my Malaysian stomach! Don’t you know how much I can eat?
In Malaysian culture, we’re used to seeing full plates heaping with rice, chicken, fish, pork, mutton, ulam – what have you.
To top that off, there are no polkadots. We literally invented ‘kuah banjir’ which would make any fine dining chef hide behind their aprons.
More is more and that is celebrated through our ample buffet tables at cultural festivities.
No other film from any other country can get it right, so I was ecstatic when I watched Kongsi Raya because not only did they understand the assignment, they aced it.
With the steam wafting from hot soups and broths, the fried food glossy with oil, the kuehs vibrant in shades of red, green, yellow and pink – each dish is presented as enticingly as it would be if it were served right in-front of you.
The true test of a film about food is whether or not it succeeds in making you hungry. In that case, just ask my empty fridge.
Now, the film has already met my expectations since I was in search of a local film about food, but it exceeded them when I discovered that the beating heart of the story was an interracial relationship.
JUICE had previously shared in a heartfelt piece the realities of being in an interracial/interfaith relationship.
To describe it succinctly, loving someone of a different race/religion – particularly when one party is Malay/Muslim – can feel very quiet and lonely.
The milestones that couples normally share are usually kept a secret due to disapproving parents and the wonderful memories that are collected quickly turn bittersweet with the knowledge that the relationship could end at any moment due to external factors far more powerful than love.
It’s a constant battle of secrecy and uncertainty that leads to the demise of many interracial couples in Malaysia and with that, the art surrounding this topic often reflects the reality.
Tragic and ephemeral are the words I would describe the portrayals of interracial relationships in movies.
It always starts off like fireworks, exploding in vibrant colours in the sky for spectators to ooh and ahh at. But like fireworks, it lasts for a moment before the colours fade and all you’re looking at is blankness.
Now, why in the hell would I want to watch that?
Kongsi Raya is the antithesis to these movies. It is the exception to the rule that relationships like these are doomed.
It is refreshingly vibrant and optimistic while maintaining the seriousness of the subject.
Sharifah and Jack go through great lengths – for comedic purposes, sometimes – but mostly, for their love.
Seeking approval from both families can be tough and it is built-upon from the very beginning that these families are worlds apart.
But finding similarities and chipping away at their differences despite how uncomfortable it may be is a sign of strength and it is a tribute to all the couples that have undergone this same process and made it out victorious.
Yes, illustrating the unfair factors of interracial relationships is important but must we focus on the tragedy every time?
Why try when we know we’re doomed for failure?
It’s only because most of us – even if we won’t admit it – have that glimmer of hope that it could work that we see through it ’til the end.
And Kongsi Raya takes a magnifying glass to that hope.
Watch Kongsi Raya on Netflix today!