Bernardo Bertolucci once said: "Movies are made with the same material dreams are made of". As evidence, one might look no further than Yim Ho's unexpectedly beguiling KITCHEN, the tale of a womanising hairstylist (Jordan Chan) and his transsexual 'mother' (Law Kar-ying) whose lives are changed irrevocably by the arrival of a beautiful orphaned houseguest (Yasuko Tomita). Aided and abetted by the magnificent, sensuous visuals conjured by master cinematographer Poon Hang-sang, Yim's simple tale explores the consequences of bereavement on the inevitable relationship that develops between Chan and Tomita. However, their mutual platonic obsession is ultimately defeated by time and circumstances, and the film closes quietly on a scene of domestic bliss, threads untied, passions unconsummated. Yim explored similar emotional territory several years earlier in the rural drama THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD (1994), but here, his themes have been tempered by the warmth of the characterisations. Chan and Law are effortlessly good, but Tomita carries the film with demure grace. An early scene, in which she's found on a rooftop overlooking Hong Kong at night, expressing her silent, wordless grief over the death of her grandmother by reaching for the moon, is quite genuinely heartbreaking. Elsewhere, the film's long middle section, detailing events surrounding another unexpected tragedy, is a little too leisurely and could have been trimmed without significant loss, but the bookends are magnificent and the images are never less than ravishing. You'll be humming the wistful, nursery-rhyme theme music for days afterward.
Despite its languid pacing, the original 124-minute version is the preferred cut, rather than the 112-minute 'international' print which tampers with the narrative flow. Thankfully, the longer version seems to have prevailed in most major markets, especially on home video.
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