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Ousted chef Wong Bing-Yi is determined to help Shen Qing at her restaurant "Four Seas". He trains a young chef, Lung Kin-Yat to compete against Chef Tin, the head chef at "Imperial Palace", for the title of "Top Chef". Written by
KUNG FU CHEFS J-pop star Ai Kago enhances lightweight HK cooking film
KUNG FU CHEFS (2009) brings to mind such Hong Kong cooking movies as Tsui Hark's Chinese FEAST (1995) and Stephen Chow's GOD OF COOKERY (1996), but is considerably lower-budgeted. This one incorporates kung fu fight scenes, thanks to a contrived subplot involving decades-old sibling rivalry and a nephew's urge for revenge. The fight scenes are well-staged (by two of the venerable Yuen Clan, Yuen Cheung-Yan and Yuen Shun Yi) and give veteran kung fu star Sammo Hung a chance to show he can still strut his stuff after forty years in the business, but they interfere with the cooking scenes which are the real reason to see this movie. As master chef Wong Ping-Yee, Sammo whips up quite a few mouth-watering dishes. My favorite is the scene in which he makes scrambled eggs in a fashion I wish my local diner would adopt.
The real reason I sought this movie out is the presence in the cast of Ai Kago, a Japanese pop singer known to her fans by her nickname, Aibon, and famous for being one of the legendary 4th Generation of J-pop girl group Morning Musume and, later, half of a charming duo called W, in which Aibon was paired with her equally delightful 4th Gen partner, Nozomi Tsuji (better known as Nono). KUNG FU CHEFS was Aibon's first high-profile project following her unceremonious expulsion from Hello! Project, the umbrella entertainment organization containing Morning Musume and its spin-off acts, for a series of "offenses" that began with her being captured on film with a cigarette in her hand by a notorious Japanese tabloid. Aibon was one of the greatest entertainers to come out of Hello! Project and her suspension and subsequent dismissal constitute one of the great injustices perpetrated by the Japanese pop music industry.
In KUNG FU CHEFS, Aibon is fourth-billed as Ying, the sister of the female owner of the Cantonese restaurant that becomes the focal point of the movie after unemployed master chef Sammo signs on as the head cook after beating the current chef in a one-on-one cooking competition. Aibon is the one who gets to sample the competing dishes of roast duck in that scene and it reminded me of all those great bits on Morning Musume's old TV show, "Hello Morning," in which the girls, especially Aibon and Nono, got to eat special dishes provided by local Tokyo restaurants. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to eat much more than that in the course of the film. She has one food preparation scene in which Sammo coaches her in making a sauce. She participates in one fight scene staged in a supermarket and gets to do a lot of her own fight moves, although she's doubled in the more acrobatic bits. She becomes something of a love interest, although quite chaste, for Ken (Vanness Wu), the young hero, a wandering cook/kung fu expert who winds up as Sammo's assistant at the restaurant.
I enjoyed watching Aibon, who evidently was instructed by the director to just "be yourself" in every scene she's in, even though, ultimately, she doesn't get to do as much as I'd like. I hope other enterprising casting directors will succumb to her charms. She's cute, spunky, full of life and vigor, and utterly adorable, even if we're denied the pleasure of listening to her own voice. Word of advice to those with the bilingual (Mandarin/Cantonese) DVD: choose Mandarin since the voice actress on that track sounds more like Aibon than the one on the Cantonese track.
KUNG FU CHEFS recalls another action film that employed J-pop stars from Hello! Project. Three years ago, the Japanese film, SUKEBAN DEKA: CODENAME - SAKI ASAMIYA (2006), released in the U.S. as YO YO GIRL COP, starred H!P solo star Aya Matsuura in the title role, with Rika Ishikawa, another 4th Gen member of Morning Musume, as her chief rival. Their presence enhanced that film significantly as well.
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