Production Talk - 'Kitchen Quartet' by Nicole Midori


In a food-obsessed nation, the power of food manifests in our lives in myriad ways. A patronizing food critic unknowingly affects a promising female chef through his review. Forced to question her culinary career, she reexamines her relationship with her hawker mum while the withdrawn young son of the critic uses food as a means of connecting with his father.

As a drama about the quiet ironies of life, we journey through the film with the protagonist, Shu An, the young chef. Both daughter and son find themselves threading down the same path as they struggle to gain acceptance from their respective parents. While food inexplicably extends beyond taste, the two different families confront their inner selves without them realizing how their lives intertwine.

‘Kitchen Quartet’ ultimately shows how certain events are more than mere coincidences of life but causal effects of our actions. The characters in the film all journey on separate paths to find themselves reaching a destination that is ironically their true selves and that unites all four of them.


The most subtle acts to me, are the most meaningful when it comes to elucidating a person’s character and food is a basic necessity of life that feeds the soul as the old adage goes. When we cook and eat, it is a ritual by which we sit together and partake in a meal that brings us together without the need for words.

I believe that food has the paradoxical power to pull different cultures together and concretize the innate connection that exists between people of different ages, backgrounds and expresses my belief that a commonality exists despite societal or cultural differences. Food has both a social and personal history that makes for a very significant commentary on the lives of people. In the two very different families portrayed, we see how their paths intertwine and affect each other and ultimately remind one about the choices we decide upon in the paths we choose.

Kitchen Quartet shows how the power of food manifests in our lives; when the two families confront their inner selves as their lives overlap. I have always has a deep-seated love for cooking while taught family recipes as a child. I always relished the idea of possibly making my parents a little happier with my food and more so, it was communication of sorts between me, my mother and father. I wanted to illustrate in the film’s moments of reticence and quiet, how the unsaid emotions of these characters reflect upon the very profound relationship between a parent and child of today’s Singaporean society torn between material expectations and filial piety.

Nicole's website


What started the idea behind Kitchen Quartet? Are you a food enthusiast yourself?
How long did it take for you to make this film?

I am indeed a food enthusiast as a result of my family background and this carries over to the theme in my film, which revolves around how people from different societal backgrounds can be obsessed with a simple dish that is synonymous with Singaporeans. Being taught how to cook by my Japanese grandmother as a child and observing the way the adults in my family were enamoured with food really intrigued me. As a filmmaker, I’m fascinated by the dynamics in families with a dysfunctional bent and also relationships, which parallel one another. I started writing the script in late 2008 and shot it in Dec 2008. We completed the postproduction of the film in May 2009.

I understand it was done as part of yr final year student project? Was this a constraint in your content?

In terms of content, I wouldn’t say I constrained myself in terms of content but perhaps in terms of the scope of the production, I had to cut back on things like production design, the number of shooting days. But I had a marvelous crew who were all fellow students from my school, the film majors at the School of Art, Design & Media at NTU. I didn’t work with anyone in the professional industry partly because we couldn’t afford it and also I enjoyed the process of working with my peers, creatively there was always a dialogue going on and my camera assistant Hanafi was also my editor and sound designer! I owe a lot to these people.

How did you manage to get a kitchen to shoot in?

I tried many avenues including SHATEC to no luck, and went looking around a lot of restaurants and tried my luck and finally found this restaurant at Duxton Hill. The owner was really nice and refused payment from me, only agreeing to accept my card of thanks. In terms of physical challenges, the amount of time we had at the locations were very limiting for us and as you know, the downsides that come with location filming include bad audio especially at the hawker centre and the kitchen of the fine dining restaurant. Everything was shot on location so there wasn’t the privilege of shooting in a quiet studio.

How was it working with an experienced actor like Gerald Chew?

Directing experienced actors are a rather different realm from directing less experienced actors, but neither one is better or worse. When I threw him an adjustment, he knew very quickly what I wanted.Its different working with less experienced actors when I usually have to warm them up before going for a rehearsal take or actual take (yes haha.. when you shoot on film, the need for rehearsals is magnified quantum fold before you actually roll) But that to me is also where uncanny magic happens, for me, it was the scenes between the mother and daughter, played respectively by Sally Poh and Shu An. They had this undeniable chemistry which caught on from prior rehearsals and it was lovely for me to direct the both of them. On the whole, I got most of my performances within the first couple of takes.

Who are your target audience (or who would you be interested to show this to?)
My original target audience would definitely be Singaporeans, because who else can relate better to Hokkien mee or hawker food in general? However, I’ve also shown it to non-Singaporeans, including some people I’ve showed it to overseas when I was in Berlin for the Berlinale Talent Campus earlier this year and they could relate to the film even though the iconic dish was lost on them. To me, I simply wanted to tell a story that showed how food could do much more than just whet appetites but connect people. The audience I have in mind really doesn’t belong to any particular group, although it will help if they have a soft spot for food.

What were some of the biggest challenges in the production?
If given more money, how could you have made this film differently?

Budgets are always a problem for productions and producing my own film meant that I had to keep a close watch on expenditure which I felt was very limiting for me as a director. If I had a bigger budget, I would have scheduled the shoot to be spread out over more days so that there was breathing space for shots and we did not have to rush. Then again, such constraints really challenge you and force you to take risks which you might not have taken if you had all the time in the world.

What other stories, projects are you on to now ... or have in mind?

I’m currently writing a short film of my own now and I will be directing a music video for a local band. Asides from my own work, I’m also freelancing as an assistant director and screenwriter for local production companies.

What are the top 5 movies you wish you'd made?

Top 5 movies I wished I made.. hmm that list has constantly evolved, I would say they include, Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman, Festen by Thomas Vintenberg, Adams ├Žbler by Anders Thomas Jensen, Au Revoir Les Enfants by Louis Malle, Dare Mo Shiranai(also known as Nobody Knows) by Hirokazu Koreeda, of which the last two made me bawl my eyes out and I wish I could make films which elicit such visceral emotions.

Kitchen Quartet was screened under the Singapore Panorama Shorts category at the Singapore International Film Festival 2010
Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form