PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World

The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World illustrates that traditional preparations support the restaurant's booming, completely contemporary commerce.

The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World

Director: Weijun Chen
Cast: Qin Linzi, Liu Siwei, Liu Longhui, Li Wanzhen
Rated: NR
Studio: Drive Thru Pictures
Year: 2008
US date: 2010-01-26 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

"My goal is simple," says a young woman. "To find a good job, then marry a good husband when the time comes. Because money solves everything." She smiles broadly, her bright blue uniform suggesting that she's already achieved her first step. A waiter at the West Lake Restaurant in Changsha, China, her shifts are busy, if not precisely "simple." She works alongside some 1,000 employees, in dining rooms that accommodate as many as 5,000 clients.

The titular Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World (at least according to Guinness) does look really, really big. Screening on 26 January as part of the Stranger Than Fiction series at New York's IFC Center (including a Q&A session with the film’s editor, Jean Tsien), the film shows the establishment again and again in striking wide shots that highlight size -- hundreds of tables, crowds of waiters, plates and bowls and vats of steaming food, as well as a frankly huge stage in the Entertainment Hall, where performers sing, dance, and make heartfelt speeches. Wait staff members line up to recite their creed: "Solidarity equals strength, strength is iron, strength is steel." Managers gather around tables to plan menus, arrange birthday parties and longevity banquets, and anticipate last minute adjustments -- say, when a wedding party that called for 360 seats expands to over 500.

The numbers are impressive: Weijun Chen's documentary makes this work clear as well, with intertitles that indicate the many possible occasions for big restaurant uses -- did you know that there are "10 million weddings and 1.9 million divorces in China every year"? Seemingly background information, such statistics also frame the film's consideration of the many complications of Chinese culture, in particular its remarkable mix of old and new. Embodying this mix in multiple ways, the West Lake's proprietor, Qin Linzi, is introduced as she's counting money. She reveals that her "total assets" are worth about £2 million (nearly $3.5 million), then laughs when her interviewer asks if she ever dreamed of being rich: "Never."

Qin suggests that she owes her success to her abusive first husband: when she left him, she says, she had to find a way to support her parents and her daughter, Liu Siwei. Her current husband, once her chauffeur, jokes about their unusual dynamic. President Qin, as his wife is called by her workers, smiles appreciatively as he prepares dinner for her at home ("He cooks quite well") or drives her to work. "As they began their romance, he says, "We were thinking the same thing: she said that as the boss, if we didn’t get married, people might gossip." Qin explains, "Throughout history Chinese, women have been subservient. Because I am seen as a powerful woman, people think he must be under my thumb." The camera looks up as they dance during a wedding celebration at the restaurant, their smiles wide. "Now that we are married," she adds, "I believe that we will grow old together."

They will grow old, too, looking after her business. She started it by borrowing small amounts (£700) from individual friends: she opened her first, modest version of West Lake in 2000, paid back her lenders after the first year, and continued to expand. While some of her workers have been in place for years, others -- primarily waiters, runners, and busboys -- turn over frequently, citing poor pay and long hours as their reasons. "They haven't had a good meal since they started here," reports one manager. Well, observes another, "If they want to eat like they do at home, we can't provide that."

Ironically, perhaps, Qin asserts that West Lake develops "relationships" with customers, adapting local recipes to mass production. Liu Siwei adds, "Doing business is about guan xi [networking]. The more people you know, the easier it is to get things done." The restaurant stands as testament to such faith in cultivating social context, at once a location to affirm associations -- mutually beneficial friendships, business deals, familial bonds -- and also a massive metaphor for the shift from local business to global dealing that characterizes China's current economy, as it alternates between precarious and burgeoning.

When Qin takes the film crew on a tour of the wild duck farm she uses ("When you come to eat in the countryside, it makes you appreciate food in a different way"), the film shows both the result of new farming methods (huge numbers of ducks) and the traditional means of dispatching them. "Ducks are difficult to kill," says the farmer, as he demonstrates: "If you pull the heart out, it will die quicker." The bird flops and twitches, its heart pulled out, not dying nearly quickly enough.

The film keenly illustrates that such traditional preparations support the restaurant's booming, completely contemporary commerce. Hundreds of plates of roast duck are carried from the kitchen to feed paying customers. Qin insists that her own goals are benevolent, that she cares for her employees' well-being. "I tell my staff that everyone has potential," she says. "If you spend all day in the kitchen, you become a robot." And so she encourages activities that take them outside the kitchen, as when the cooks are corralled to perform for the restaurant's own anniversary celebration. They look awkward as they rehearse ("Although they are not dancers, they put their hearts into it"). Like everyone else working at West Lake, they look caught between the past and present, between goals and needs. None of their options seems simple.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.