Malaysian Film ‘Hungry Ghost Diner’ Will Leave You Hungry For More Spooky Fun

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The debut feature film of Malaysian writer-director Cho We Jun, produced by Benji Lim and co-produced by Lee Yve Vonn, Hungry Ghost Diner leaves an impression from its spooky name alone.

The film made its debut at the 27th Edition of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival 2023 in South Korea, and even won the NETPAC Award for the Best Asian Feature Film, with judges citing the film’s familial messaging throughout. 

Needless to say, Hungry Ghost Diner has made the rounds and has finally made its debut in Malaysian screens. JUICE was invited to an exclusive screening and needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised.

All photos used were provided to JUICE by director, Cho We Jun.

Strange Things

The film centres around a young street chef named, Bonnie, played by Chen Keat Yoke. After a night of selling noodles from her food truck in Kuala Lumpur, Bonnie begins experiencing ethereal phenomena, after a mysterious visit from her uncle, Ah Kiu, played by Sam Chong.

Sensing something is wrong, Bonnie returns to her hometown of Behrang, Perak where she reunites with her prickly father, Bobby, played by Eric Chen. She finds their shophouse and kopitiam being torn down and has a row with her father. 

Taking place during the height of the pandemic, Bonnie soon finds herself stranded back home as a lockdown is placed on the town. Coincidentally, the Hungry Ghost Festival is just about to begin, which begins a series of mystical events for Bonnie. 

While the story centers around Bonnie and her father, the film has a robust supporting cast, with Fabian Loo playing the overzealous salesman, Kit and Rabbit Chen as the town’s local sifu who is presiding over the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Another World

The world of ghosts and Buddhist folklore seep into the narrative, with Bonnie beginning to have nighttime visits from all sorts of familial ghosts. This also involves a trip to the spirit realm, which is where the film’s shot composition and colour grading shines. 

While the real world has warm, natural tones, the spirit world is permeated with a blue and pink neon tinge. The town of Behrang also shows off a bit of its charm as the Hungry Ghost Festival ironically brings it to life. 

Performance-wise, Yoke does a great job at playing a young woman torn by her past, present, and future. Hungry Ghost Diner does well in portraying her hardships but also showing that she is flawed and hard-headed at times. 

Eric Chen also does a great job of being the typical, distant Asian father, a figure that many may undoubtedly be familiar with. Contrasting that is Chong’s Ah Kiu who is the more positive father figure in Bonnie’s life and the one she is more keen on opening up to. 

Providing comedic relief is the aforementioned Kit and Yap Sifu, who both add brevity to their scenes, with the former as the typical Kuala Lumpur salesman while the latter being the village religious leader who is a lot more jovial despite having a pretty morbid job.

Phantom Reverie

Splitting the film’s three acts are puppet-based intermissions, which also explains the Hungry Ghost Festival and its myths to those unfamiliar with it. Most of the film is also in Hakka and Cantonese which has a lot of wordplay and jokes for those who are fluent. 

Hungry Ghost Diner’s soundtrack is also a standout, as even though it is not a horror film with it only featuring spooky elements, the soundtrack does a good job of portraying the spirit realm with atmospheric compositions. There are also original songs that have an 80s pop sound to it all. 

It is hard to speak about Hungry Ghost Diner without getting into spoilers but trust us when we say that is a fun time for all. It is slightly low stakes with more emphasis on the characters and their relationships rather than an all-encompassing threat to their lives. 

Either way, director Cho We Jun set out to make a Spielberg-esque adventure and we would say it is a bona fide success. If this level of filmmaking is kept up, we can’t wait for more from Cho and his team in the future. 

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