I recently viewed this film to consider showing during a cooking unit of my Mandarin 4/5 classes. It gives excellent insight into Chinese food culture, showing the array of dishes available at each meal, emphasis not only on flavor but on appearance and smell as well, and how gathering around the food is less about hunger or occasion and more about family and tradition.
The movie is about a master chef who has lost his sense of taste and the lives and relationships of his three daughters. They meet weekly for a Sunday meal, and each week we learn more about what each character is going through. The movie is full of news and moments that make the viewer gasp in shock, right up to the final lines. Below I am including some plans I am in the process of using for my classes, and therein are quite a few spoilers. If you would rather not have the movie spoiled, consider watching it before reading my plans and discussion questions!
I decided to show just the first 5 minutes (a master chef preparing a feast to share with his daughters for their regular Sunday lunch) at the beginning of the cooking unit just to get students' mouths watering and thinking about a wide variety of types of dishes before exploring and choosing recipes to try themselves. I had them read the transcript of the phone call at the end of the first scene (an introduction to food and cooking terms) and imagine and role play what the person on the other end of the phone call might be saying. I have asked them to predict who Lao Zhu might be talking to. At the end of the film, I will ask them to guess again about who he may have been talking to and what news he discussed putting off until a later date.
At the end of the cooking unit, I will show the entire film, inviting students to shout out in Chinese what the chefs are doing during the cooking scenes, but otherwise enjoying the film. At the end of the film, they will discuss the following prompts and choose one to write a 2-paragraph response in Chinese.
老朱 is a master chef who has lost his sense of taste (尝不到味道了). Imagine losing something vital to one of your passions. What would life look like? How would you cope?
朱家倩 (the successful businesswoman) grew up in the kitchen and loves cooking, but her father banned her from the kitchen. Why did he do this? Do you believe he did the right thing?
Filial piety (孝：honoring and caring for your father and mother) is a major value of Chinese culture. Of the three sisters, which do you think is the most filial to her father? Why?
What is the significance of 老朱’s ability to taste (尝) the flavor (味道) of the soup in the final scene?