The top-billed star of “The Search for General Tso” gets its close-up in the opening scene: the staging of that namesake chicken dish for a menu photo shoot. But like so many “in search of” documentary journeys before it, Ian Cheney’s roundabout talking-heads film has bigger quarry in mind; it looks at Chinese-American assimilation, the useful adaptability of cuisine and the complicated cultivation of heritage.
《寻找左宗棠》(The Search for General Tso)的头号明星在影片一开始便得到一个特写镜头：为了给菜单拍摄照片，人们把这道以左宗棠命名的鸡肉菜端上来。不过，和之前的很多“寻找”类纪录片一样，伊恩·切尼的这部迂回曲折、采访了大量人物的纪录片有着更宏大的目标；它审视了华裔美国人如何融入美国、异国烹饪法的有益适应性以及文化传承复杂的形成过程。
Mr. Cheney does get around to explaining the origins of General Tso’s chicken, but what’s more rewarding than the spoon-fed history — which covers the gold rush, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Nixon in China — is the film’s glimpses of history as lived. Shot around the United States, with surprising stops in New Orleans and elsewhere, the story benefits from the reminiscences of restaurateurs, who are often interviewed in multigenerational pairs. How to cook chicken seems at once a minor detail against backdrops of racism and economic struggle, and a key to finding a foothold among strangers.
General Tso’s namesake museum back in China also gets an amusing visit, as does Peng Chang-kuei, a nonagenarian chef with a strong claim to having invented a certain recipe. But Mr. Cheney’s movie, while teasing at times, does its celebrating and debunking in mild-mannered fashion, making points without seeming to try to score them. It also lacks any of the zest or cinematic skill of, say, a Les Blank jaunt involving food, but this easily digestible format proves an apt vessel for the mystery dish at its center.
Opens on Friday
Directed by Ian Cheney
1 hour 13 minutes; not rated