I found the movie because our World Movies channel is currently having an animation special and I thought from the image that they were using to promote the special that there was a chance that I might finally be able to watch the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. I never did find that movie on the schedule (must go and check it again) but I did notice a movie called The Recipe so that had to be food related right?
The story starts at quite a dark point. A man, who had spent the previous 5 years on the run, was being executed for his crimes and when he was asked for any last words, he wished that he could have some doen-jang, a bowl of bean paste stew!
A young man who was at the execution brings the story to a hardened TV producer and tells the story not only of the execution but also of the night that the notorious prisoner was captured. He was at a small restaurant, hidden in the mountains and he was eating a bowl of this bean paste stew. He was so engrossed in this meal, that he didn't seem to notice that the police were there to arrest him. Even the police who could only smell the stew were in an entranced state with everything happening in slow motion. The arresting official said (English translation of course) that it smelt so good that "I would have licked the bowl like a dog if that bastard had left even one drop in it."
The producer, Choi, begins to wonder what was so good about this that a condemned man would think of it at his dying moment and so travels to the restaurant to try their doen-jang. It's good, but not as great as he was expecting. It is only when the restaurant owner (who for some reason has her hair in curlers in just about every scene she is in) confesses that it was not her cooking but that of a mysterious young woman that his story really begins much to the chagrin of his boss who thinks he is wasting his time. Little is known about Jang Hye-Jin other than her name but eventually Choi is able to track down her home village.
What follows is not only Jang's story, but also the provenance of the ingredients in the stew. The salt, the water, the bean curd all have a special story to be told but it is how it comes together in this one stew that is made by Jang Hye-Jin which has everyone who comes near to it drooling.
It should be noted that Jang's story is not a happy one, but despite that the movie retains a feel good atmosphere, a good balance between the sometimes silly characters, the more heart felt moments, the food and the scenery.
Now, I am no expert on South Korean cinema given that this was my first one ever. I did find a few of the things in the movie to be a little .... interesting. The main journalist character was a bit buffoonish as were several of the supporting characters (although the bickering farmers in the soy bean field were both buffoonish and really funny at the same time) and there was lot of eyebrow acting going on. That may well have just been the idea of trying to bring out the humour in the movie, because it definitely was funny!
This movie also made me think of other movies like Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate which had that kind of magical feeling to it relating to the food and the properties of the food.
All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spent Saturday morning and I was left wondering exactly how good doen-jang really could be.
Here is the international trailer, and I believe that you can find links to watch the movie on Youtube.