“The Search for General Tso” places great importance on the eponymous Chinese dish, a staple of American Chinese restaurants.
It wants you to really think about the delicious, savory chicken and sweet-sour sauce, to consider the cultural currents that crossed to produce this hybrid of east and west.
This is an unlikely subject for a movie but a strangely beautiful one, hitting poignant notes on a cross-country journey to restaurants in big cities and small towns, all in a bid to understand where this dish came from and what it represents.
Documentarian Ian Cheney investigates competing claims over the origin of the dish and, in an amusing segment, heads to China where he perplexes locals with photos of the distinctly American concoction.
The movie has more on its mind that an epicurean detective story, though it’d work just fine as an advertisement for delicious cooking.
“The Search for General Tso” is short, clocking in at about 71 minutes, but Cheney achieves something special in the way he convincingly advances the movie’s central argument: that General Tso’s chicken, and the other American Chinese favorites that have swept across this land and into the hearts of its people, are the primary reasons that a century of anti-Chinese discrimination came to an end.
You might laugh at the notion of chicken as a great unifying force, but this surprisingly moving flick deep fries any skepticism.