I'll admit that on the surface there's nothing terribly deep to this topic of discussion, which is fairly self explanatory. But there's something powerful in the well-composed film title that can evoke that visceral hunger in your stomach with just the right words. Words that represent foods you've tasted, tastes that trigger food memories that can water your mouth like a Pavlovian dog, trained to take notice subconsciously at the mere suggestion of an idea.
Such was my immediate response to this week's A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (international title: A Simple Noodle Story), Zhang Yimou's colorful Chinese remake of the Coen brothers' Blood Simple. The film itself has little to do with food, save being set in a remote noodle shop and its adjoining estate, where a bitter old shop owner (Ni Dahong ) plots to kill his much-younger wife (Yan Ni) and the employee she's having an affair with (Xiao Shenyang). But the title -- simple, evocative, suggesting the elemental nature of all three of its parts -- well, it got me.
I love noodles, see. Yimou had me on the hook at "noodle shop," and thankfully he includes a single scene of noodle-making in his screwball thriller. In said scene we see the shop's three lowly, buffoonish employees spring to action as a dynamic noodle-making team: they roll the dough, flip and flatten it in the air between them like jugglers, slice the noodles into strips to cook, and cover the delectable thick slabs in steaming broth before serving them in comically giant bowls.
Just reading the title of Yimou's film brings back my memories of that scene, which in turn makes me hungry. Such is the power of the well-composed film title. With food and film on the brain, I offer seven more movie titles that make me salivate.
The 1985 Japanese ramen flick Tampopo is much better known, but I was always an udon kind of girl. My grandmother used to make me bowls of the thick white noodles when I was a kid, making it the go-to comfort dish I associated with my childhood. Because of that, the word "Udon" gives me the strongest food memory association on this list. And while 2006's Udon never earned the cult audience of its ramen-centric predecessor, LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold (one of my favorite critics, food or film or otherwise) loves it so much he presented it during this year's Los Angeles Film Festival, calling it "the second-best Japanese noodle movie ever made."
Like Water for Chocolate(1992)
Few words inspire as much desire among women like "chocolate" does, and reading it in the title of Alfonso Arau's 1992 romance, based on Laura Esquivel's novel, has a secondary effect: it plants the seed of erotic desire in the mind, tied inextricably to the seductive enticement of one of life's most pleasurable sweets. For the story's heroine, Tita, the link between emotion and food extends to nearly every meal she prepares while hopelessly in love with the only man she can never have. (Is it getting hot in here?)
Mystic Pizza (1988)
This is one of those no-brainer food title films for me. "Mystic Pizza" in Mystic Pizza is, of course, the name of the pizza joint where three young women (Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish) work as waitresses in the small town of Mystic, Connecticut -- but you can also imagine a most delicious pizza pie adorned with unique, quirky toppings with magical qualities (pair it with Canadian Bacon for an even more delicious-sounding combination).
We've gone over why chocolate is an instant-win movie title word (see above). Lasse Halstrom's 2000 romance took that basic chocolate-sex association and made it even more alluring by using the French language spelling, thus evoking not only the idea of chocolate, but of EUROPEAN chocolate. The only way they could have made it any more seductive would be if they'd renamed it "Chocolat and Johnny Depp."
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
My previously established "chocolate" rule aside, this particular film title used the cocoa candy to stir slightly different emotional desire: the pull of candy to a child. What's more, the whimsical 1971 classic (let's not even mention that remake) paints an even grander picture in its title; you don't just get chocolate, you get an ENTIRE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. A chocolate factory that your inner child is being invited into to taste and gorge to your heart's delight. Augustus Gloop feels me on this.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Comfort foods are like comfort films, always there to fill us up in exactly the way we remembered them to taste and feel. Fried Green Tomatoes, then, serves the same purpose as the food for which it's named; I watched it dozens of times growing up before I'd even tried the fried dish that homegrown Southerners swear by, but now the movie title brings a flood of those unforgettable tart flavors and mo to mind along with my movie memories of Ruth, Idgie, and the Whistle Stop Café.
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
The deliciousness of a perfectly cooked pork chop has little to do with the story of this 1959 Gregory Peck Korean War movie, which portrayed real events between American soldiers and Chinese and Korean Communists just a few years earlier. Something tells me the real Pork Chop Hill was a lot more frightening, difficult, and strewn with casualties of battle than the Pork Chop Hill in my fantasy (which is, of course, a hill made of pork chops).
Food-related titles that didn't quite make the cut (but are delicious in their own right): The Hunger, Ratatouille (not my favorite dish, so there), The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman.
Food-related titles that sounded delicious until I learned what they were about: Feast, Delicatessen, Candyman, Soylent Green.