It's not rated? If you are looking for the creepy and dirty underbelly to Chinese food, you aren't going to find it here.
DIRECTOR: Ian Cheney
My wife looked at me with scorn when I first started watching this doc a while ago. She honestly thought I had nothing better to do with my life. I'll have you know, I'm always stressed out with something, so this watch was a choice. I wanted to watch the living daylights out of this movie and gosh darn it, I did. I watched every single second and was super riveted the entire time. The food doc really grabbed my attention with Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I've been looking for a food doc as interesting. While definitely presented with a different tone than Jiro, The Search for General Tso succeeded in hitting the same pleasure center of my brain.
Yes, the movie's mission statement is to determine where the most famous Chinese-American dish came from. For the uninitiated, it is common knowledge that Chinese food in America is nothing like Chinese food in China. So director Ian Cheney starts there, but takes the story way further. The weird part is that I thought I was the only one with the questions about how Chinese restaurants work, so I guess I'm in no way a unique butterfly. But in an age where Wikipedia offers immediate, but cheap relief to all of life's stupid questions, documentaries like The Search for General Tso not only provide answers, but gives those answers a wealth of humanity.
Like with many of the documentaries I discuss on this blog, there is a certain degree of disbelief. The movie does actually get pretty dark. Don't worry. The content is in no way R-rated, but it is another examination of how America has failed in its goals of inclusion. The movie never goes as far as to say that the Chinese restaurant business is an immoral giant that deserves a cultural shift, but I still have a modicum of guilt for how the system was formed in the first place. It is one of those institutional issues that has resolved itself to a somewhat healthy place, but was built upon our ignorance and stupidity. Basic preview? Look up the Chinese Exclusion Act. Yup.
But this movie is more of a celebration of subculture. It is about China as a whole. It is about immigrants and families and pride. It's not all happy, but the tone of the movie as a whole is a joyful affair. Some of the interviewees are borderline silly. Just listening to the guy who collects menus makes me pinch my sinuses in awkward terror, but I love it. It adds a level of real world sheen to a movie that could be quite alienating by concept. It's hilarious and it will probably be one of the last things I remember about the movie. That guy is goofy, but he's not alone in the sphere of people who is passionate about his little subsection of humanity. It's in these moments that I smile and laugh and tell my friends about the movie at parties. Heck, this movie made me a hit at my in-laws' Christmas party and that's a neat little thing to have in my bag of pop culture tricks.
I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. Don't order food until after. Get some friends together, crack open a soda or a beverage of choice and relax. This movie is fun and deep at the same. That's something completely special. (You are free and encouraged to order Chinese food after you are done watching.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.