The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World



Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO--There's plenty on the menu but little that's particularly filling about "The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World," a documentary profiling what the Guinness Book of Records has verified as the planet's largest eatery.

While there's something intriguing about a restaurant that can seat 5,000 comfortably, Weijun Chen's profile of the sprawling, opulent West Lake Restaurant in the Hunan capital of Changsha and its unapologetically capitalist proprietor, Mrs. Qin serves up plenty of rice but very little protein.

Even at an easy-to-digest 80 minutes, the subject matter feels protracted—it would work as a better fit as a segment on an hour TV newsmagazine than as a theatrical proposition.

As a metaphor for the new China, where burgeoning prosperity has made eating about something more than just an issue of survival, The West Lake complex aims to please with a staff of 800 navigating  those banquet halls, private rooms, lakes and gardens with military precision.

But the filmmaker's free-form, point-and-shoot style doesn't probe deeply enough into the inherent backstage drama, save for a handful of profiles of a few of those hard workers and a sampling of those who have chosen to celebrate weddings, births or the birthdays of their parents at the dining palace.

It proves to be pleasantly diverting if slight stuff, especially when compared to some of Chen's previous films, although some of those food prep sequences may prove a bit hard to stomach for vegans and those not familiar with Anthony Bourdain's more fearless culinary excursions.

Drive Thru Pictures.
Production company: Lawrence Elman Prods., BBC, DR, VPRO
Director: Weijun Chen
Executive producers: Nick Fraser, Barbara Truyen, Mette Hoffmann-Meyer
Producer: Lawrence Elman
Music: Nick Fyffe
Editors: Jean Tsien, Gigi Wong
Sales Agents: DR Television, BBC
No MPAA rating , 80 minutes.