|Index||5 reviews in total|
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sammo Hung stars in an odd combination of kung fu and cooking.
Its the story of a chef who's nephew sets him up to take a fall at a banquet. Years later he ends up working for the family who had trained his brother to be a great chef. At the same time he is training a young man to become a great chef...and he once more has a run in with his nephew who owns a restaurant.
Despite the fact that the film stops making sense in the second half I like this film a great deal. Watching the film on DVD I was all set for it to be one of the best films of the year, since for the first half hour this film is absolute dynamite. The trouble is that the film begins to slowly lose its way during the middle third as it tries to balance the "cooking karate kid" angle with the need to have some fights. Then pretty much all thought of the film really having a plot that makes sense, except on a larger level, goes out the window in the last half hour as the film shifts to the events around a cooking competition. It's here that the film effectively stops making any sense except that the thrust of the plot is such you know what its trying to do even though its screwing up the details.
And yet I still like the film. The reason I like the movie despite the utter break down of the plot is that the pieces that are on screen are actually really good, they just aren't stitched together very well. The cooking sequences are great, the fights are fun and most of all the characters are wonderful. Its all good even if the pieces are badly joined together. On some level I think that this film was suppose to be a half hour longer but the producer decided to go with a 90 minute movie and chopped the hell out of the second half of the movie.
While I can't recommend any part of the film other than the first half hour as being a must see, the rest of the film is worth the time and effort to make a bowl of popcorn and curl up with on the couch as a rental if nothing else.
Some time ago, I watched a mainstream trifle called "Kung Fu Panda."
The only appeal it had was the idea of discipline in ordinary things.
The involvement of food was incidental and comic but it mattered.
Food is not easy to film. But it is inherently cinematic stuff, and as powerful in my experience as dance. Sometimes it literally can be a dance when we are working with the preparation.
So, what if your cinematic dance conventions have evolved around kung fu scenes? Well, then you make your food dance movie using kung fu conventions. To make the point, you'll have to have lots of dialog about the honor and skill of cooking; you'd probably want to make a big deal about knives. And because (especially in China) food is about family, you'll have a plot that somehow involves familial bonds.
Well, look no further. Someone has put all this together for you. And it really isn't bad at all if you see it as a piece of precious cinema. I suppose if you expect a kung fu movie or pop star vehicle, you will be disappointed.
Here's something. How do you show taste? Ang Lee did it by focusing on color, lingering on color and texture. Kar Wai Wong shows steam, succulent steam. Greenaway (in his kitchen movie) turned the kitchen into a divine machine. Tampopo wove a whole thing about movie genres into the taste of the noodles. Babbette by contrast with cold gruel. "Grande Bouffe" just showed obsession. "Sweet Movie" gives us taste in the form of a nude orgasmic woman drenched in chocolate made with sugar aged with the corpses of children. There are more complex devices...
Here, it is a simple matter. We see the pleasure of the faces when eating. Simple. Effective.
"The more simple the dish, the harder to make well."
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Lets start by saying I watch this movie with expectation of just being
entertained. Instead, I ended up have to fast forward it a few times
because I can guess the storyline already.
The plots have been used literally millions of times, nothing new here. In fact, it is blatantly stealing scenes and ideas from other movies while offering nothing new.
The acting are pretty good in some scene, truly atrocious in other. Vanness Wu is playing the Stephen Chow role. He did pretty well considering he's a horrible actor. The scenes and lines that are used in this movie are truly one of the worst I've ever seen. It seems some scenes are forced just for the sake of completing the movie. Add a huge amount of logic holes and unrealism to that, and the scenes will make you think, "well that's not what normal thinking human being will do."
In conclusion: character development are very poor, plot predictable, cheesy lines, unrealistic scenes, and bad actors describe this movie perfectly. A shame for Asian movies indeed.
I guess it's only Chinese that we can include everything that moves
into our gastronomical cuisine, and for films, everything can be
kung-fu-ed. From card sharks to period dramas and even hip-hop and
mah-jong, you can slap some characters who are versed in the martial
arts of wire-fu into a story, and conjure some bland cinematic magic
with it. To boost attendance numbers, throw in a singer / teen idol in
it, and you probably won't go too wrong. Kung Fu Chefs follow this
tired formula. While there are some limited worthy moments in the film
(to be explained), it's below mediocre throughout with uncharismatic
leads, weak characters, and having a story which smelt like another.
If Hong Kong movies are running out of steam in coming out with original tales, then this one would be testament that there's some thumbing through of some South Korean screenplays, given some resemblance here to the K-movie of last year - Le Grand Chef, and how that film had some influence over this one. You have a disgraced master in Sammo Hung's Master Wong, a culinary expert and village chief, who fell from grace given a village-wide food poisoning incident. Then there's some unresolved family rivalry, where his nephew (played by Fan Siu-Wong, last seen in Ip Man) accuses Wong of usurping his father's pride as well as a legendary chopper which is quite nicely designed with its dragon-motif handle.
The best bits of the film were actually food related, with some insights, which I hope are real, into the careful planning and preparation of some wonderful Chinese cuisine, from the humble Chinese cabbage, to the renowned Buddha Jumps Over The Wall. I took some delight in the display of skill during the preparation stage, and drooled over the final products ready for the table. Which means of course you should not be watching this (if you've already thought hard and long about it) on an empty stomach. The Best of Chefs competition also harked back to Le Grand Chef, only less grand, and a limited budget meant less screen participants and dishes.
I've watched Sammo Hung in some great Hong Kong action movies in the past, especially those that he did in collaboration with his buddies like Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. Of late the movies he got involved in were hits and misses, from starring roles such as SPL (hit, except for the ending which I implored) and Fatal Move, which was a terrible miss. Behind the scenes he's also involved in some action choreography like the forgettable Once Upon a Time in China and America, and the last one being the excellently choreographed action in Ip Man.
Here his role as Master Wong Bing-Yi is extremely plain, maintaining a stoic outlook throughout, whether betrayed, elated or angry, it's just one look to rule them all. While I had admired his agility (for his size), age has already caught up with the big guy, and there are plenty of noticeable scenes where you can clearly tell a stuntman's clearly taking over some of the rough and tumble behind those action sequences.
Vanness Wu as the Japanese wire-fu and culinary gradudate student Ken-ichi, is painful to watch no thanks to the act-cute antics, and seemed more interested in flexing some new found muscles in his buffed body. Moreover, his arrogant screen attitude also was somewhat difficult to bear, if not for the about turn in character during the crucial competition. But his cute antics was bowled over by yet another worse actress Kago Ai, who shows one emotion throughout - the saccharine sweet. It seems like a running competition amongst everyone here to best all the rest through a single expression. The other actress given top billing here, Cherrie Ying, is actually quite pedestrian.
I was quite surprised when past the 70 minute mark the film had started to opt for jarring narrative edits in order to fast forward plot development, not that it had anything cerebral to begin with. And seriously, what's up with that tacky opening credit scene too? I'd swear there was a baby in the theatre who started crying the minute that scene came out. Unless you're a fan of Hung and Wu (you can hear those fan girl giggles ringing in surround sound in the cinema), you should give this a miss unless you're in just to watch how food of the elite nature get prepared. See only, cannot eat, so why torture yourself?
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