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Kung Fu Chef

     

(left) Vanness Wu and Fan Siu-Wong, and (right) Sammo Hung makes some sauce in Kung Fu Chef.

Chinese:

功夫廚神

Year: 2009
Director: Yip Wing-Kin
Action:

Yuen Cheung-Yan, Yuen Shun-Yi

Cast:

Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Vanness Wu, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Ai Kago, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Lam Chi-Chung, Bruce Leung Siu-Lung, Wu Jianfei, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Xing Yu, Guk Fung, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Chun Wong, Michael Chan

The Skinny: It's another Kung Fu [insert noun] film, and it's actually okay fun. Decent fighting, fun cooking, and Sammo Hung lift Kung Fu Chef beyond its meager expectations to become something of a surprise. Not quality but not really bad.
 
  Review
by Kozo:

At first glance, Kung Fu Chef looks as cheesy and low-rent as 2007's unimpressive Kung Fu Fighter. The combo of director Yip Wing-Kin and stars Vanness Wu and Fan Siu-Wong couldn't prevent Kung Fu Fighter from being a crappy Kung Fu Hustle clone, and since they all return for Kung Fu Chef, it's understandable if confidence in this latest Kung Fu [insert noun] iteration is not high. But Kung Fu Chef surprises. Thanks to decent fight scenes, fun cooking scenes and the presence of the venerable Sammo Hung, the film surpasses its numerous negatives to deliver something approximating decent, harmless fun. Who knew?

Sammo Hung stars as martial arts chef Wong Ping-Yee, who years ago saved a banquet by using the powerful Dragon Head Knife to butcher a whole pig in less than two minutes flat. However, his evil nephew Master Joe (Fan Siu-Wong) framed him by poisoning the meal, making Yee an outcast from the martial arts/cooking world. Also, the Dragon Head Knife magically grew dull, turning gray and ugly right before everyone's eyes. Maybe it felt sad.

In the present time, Yee crosses paths with hip and talented martial arts chef Ken (Vanness Wu) at a restaurant run by sisters Ching (Cherrie Ying) and Ying (Kago Ai of Japan's Morning Musume). Yee has a past connection to the sisters, and after a fashion he agrees to take over the kitchen and train Ken, who acts annoying and arrogant until Yee beats him in a sashimi slicing contest. However, Master Joe is unhappy to hear about Yee's return, and sends his goons (led by Flash Point's Xing Yu), all fashionably dressed up like Miami Vice-era Don Johnson clones, to mess things up. Can Yee and his new family beat up an army of baddies dressed in powder blue blazers?

Unlike the disappointing Kung Fu Fighter, Kung Fu Chef delivers solid fight sequences that recall light Hong Kong fare from years past. The action isn't bloody or over the top, but it's not marred by extraneous editing, sometimes allowing for more than your usual two or three points of contact per shot. Yuen Clan members Yuen Cheung-Yan and Yuen Shun-Yi deserve credit, as do actors like Sammo Hung, Bruce Leung (as Yee's fallen older brother) and Fan Siu-Wong - namely guys who can handle more complex choreography than your standard popstar types. Still, the chiseled Vanness Wu handles his fight sequences well, and even Timmy Hung gets in on the action. His role is basically to play his father's punching bag, but he takes the punishment gamely. If Sammo getting to hit his flesh-and-blood is what it takes for him to suit up for more action films, then Timmy, please play a bad guy more often.

The fight sequences help compensate for the film's negatives, which number quite high when tallied up. Besides the barely existent story, you have lousy sound design, odd continuity, terrible editing, and numerous nonsensical sequences that appear pretty much out of nowhere. The chefs frequently display X-ray eyesight, and at one point Cherrie Ying demonstrates telepathic powers which she uses to, uh, select a dish for a cooking competition. Later on in the film, certain characters are in great peril, but rather than race to save them, everyone else stands around for a, "Hmmm, thank you for having honor, no don't kneel, let's stand around and talk" conversation that really stretches the clock.

The sloppy filmmaking extends to the acting; Sammo Hung is great and grizzled as Yee, but Vanness Wu mugs up a storm as super-hip kung-fu slacker Ken. However, Wu is outdone by Ai Kago, whose cute and funny girl act is so egregious that it could cause scars in more impressionable audiences. The rest of the players are either appropriate or unobtrusive, with Fan Siu-Wong making the biggest impact in yet another of his borderline comic "I'm an evil person" roles.

Kung Fu Chef is little more than a low-rent populist product, with easily digestible themes of family and honor, and a screenplay that's so hackneyed that it becomes funny. People say cartoon-like pretentious stuff like, "It's easy to cook; it's hard to do well in life", while also engaging in classic bon mots like, "Bitch, are you looking for trouble?" Screenwriting genius this is not, but the writers do get one thing very right: the cooking. The film has numerous scenes featuring delicious dishes, with cooking techniques and exotic foods described in pleasing detail. The description of simple foods is also effective, with scenes about cooking scrambled eggs or cabbage in chicken soup proving surprisingly successful.

Also, the film features the expected cooking competitions, where delicious food is prepared with running commentary from the peanut gallery describing every move in deep detail. The judging usually involves manga-like reactions, but the film eschews over-the-top God of Cookery-type mugging while still channeling much of the same feel. Overall, Kung Fu Chef provides decent return for its meager investment, and manages some fun amidst the expected sloppy filmmaking. It's really unfortunate that the direction is so substandard; had it been even a bit more inspired perhaps Kung Fu Chef could actually be classified as quality. As it is, the film is better than nearly anyone would expect, which is already cause enough for cheer. (Kozo 2009)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image credits: My Way Films

   
 
 
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