A young woman struggles with society and weight loss in Hsieh Pei-Ju’s comedy-drama.
“At that restaurant, I broke three chairs.”
There are a number of excellent reasons to want to lose weight: health being, naturally, the most common and probably the most important, with self-confidence somewhere as a close second. There are also a tonne of terrible reasons to do so, such as when you’re dictated to by arbitrary standards set out by your society. Wanting to change for your own wellbeing is key. In Heavy Craving the reasons are a bit different, and a lot shallower. But how does it address this?
Jiang Ying-Juan (Tsai Jia-Yin) has a passion for cooking and for food. Nicknamed Ms Dinosaur at her mother’s school, where she cooks for the pupils, she is often jeered, frowned upon or dismissed in society because of her weight (even by her own mother who buys her a subscription to a weight loss programme for her birthday). After a chance encounter with delivery driver Wu (Chang Yao-Jen), who himself used to be fat, she makes up her mind to try to lose weight, determined to try any means necessary, no matter how dangerous.
Heavy Craving’s heart is definitely in the right place but it’s sometimes a little confused about the message that it wants to spread. On the one hand, it celebrates body positivity constantly, as well as the idea of embracing who you are on the inside. It’s handled really well with Xiao Yu, a boy at the school who Jiang catches cross-dressing. His mother is naturally appalled at this, but Jiang encourages it, telling the boy that he should be himself. It’s a touching b-plot that has focus where the main story doesn’t.
However, when it comes to Jiang it seems that the only reason given for her to lose weight is because everyone in town in the world’s biggest asshole. Boys openly mock and throw eggs at her for being fat, and her own mother seems embarrassed. The people at the health centre mention a couple of good personal reasons for wanting to do so, but it never touches upon those issues much – only with the staff talking about the “better self” over and over again. Even Wu pretty much only mentions the names he was called at work (although this is followed by a touching scene where the two bond over the names they’d been called over the years).
So of course it’s going to be discouraging to Jiang, who could have used a good mentor or role model in the movie. Because losing weight is difficult, and you’ll likely gain more before you start to lose it – after all, you’re probably also building muscle at the same time. The health centre’s approach to take it easy is (mostly) well-intentioned, but it’s not enough to encourage Jiang to take the steps needed. So in that regard, I think the movie falls flat. Thankfully it encourages Jiang’s positive self-image, which is sorely needed but then just sort of ends, offering very little actual conclusion.
But that’s not a huge indictment, and the flaws are outweighed by the positives. The leads are all very sweet and even though Jiang’s main dramas seem weirdly unresolved, everything comes together for Xiao Yu and you’ll probably come out of this feeling pretty good. You could argue that it could have tried a little harder to tackle difficult – and not often-discussed – subjects instead of playing it safe and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you. For better or worse, Heavy Craving never gets, for lack of a better phrase, too heavy.
Verdict: Not quite the commentary it wanted to be, Heavy Craving is nevertheless a fun and uplifting story about self-confidence that’s sorely needed.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Violence: 4/10 for one brutal dream sequence
Best nickname: Gotta be Cesspool Pig
Food: I don’t think throwing away peppers and tomatoes is the right direction for weight loss.
Drama: I was convinced Wu would turn out to have been lying.
Heavy Craving (2019)
Director: Hsieh Pei-Ju
Writer: Hsieh Pei-Ju
Tsai Jia-Yin – Jiang Yin-Juan
Chang Yao-Jen – Wu
Chan En Wei – Xiao Yu
Hsieh Tsu-wu – Allen
Samantha Ko – Madam Lin
Lene Lai – Lynn