Jing raids Hong Kong Cinema again for The Lady
Iron Chef, a cooking-themed wackfest that manages
to amuse when it's not ripping off other movies. The
problem: it rips off other movies far too often. TVB
star Charmaine Sheh stars as Ceci, a beer girl who
falls for restaurant empire heir S.K. To (Hacken Lee),
whose name is supposed to be funny because it resembles
SKII, one of Asia's top cosmetics brands. That minor
gag aside, S.K. lives beneath the iron rule of his
overbearing mom (Bonnie Wong), who's trying to get
S.K. fixed up with Jade Rice (Liu Yang), a Mainland
beauty who's also an ace chef. When S.K. introduces
Ceci as his chosen girlfriend, Mom retaliates by saying
that her daughter-in-law must be a gourmet chef. Since
Ceci simply can't cook (her instant noodles are legendary
for their lack of culinary quality), this condition
presents a bit of a problem.
Enter Lady Green (Yuen Qiu),
a legendary chef in Macau who once upon a time had
some sort of rivalry going with Jade Rice's father.
She also was the first love of Ceci's dad Souza (Wong
Jing), a smarmy fellow who wants Ceci to get hitched
to S.K. To so he can share in the cash. Lady Green
isn't keen on helping out Ceci at first, but once
she discovers that the Rice family is needling Ceci - and that Jade Rice is angling to take Ceci's guy - she signs up to help turn Ceci into the number
one chef in the world. The stage is set for a monumental
showdown between Ceci and Jade, with S.K. due to marry
whoever comes out on top. One wonders why S.K. can't
just choose the girl he wants, but he seems rather
content with being the prize in a wacky cook-off.
Of bigger concern is that there's just one month left
before the big competition. Can Ceci become Julia
Child in only a month?
Sure she can, because this
is a Wong Jing movie, and Wong excels at throwing
away all reasonable logic and story development in
favor of ripped off gags and convenient plot devices.
Director Billy Chung follows the instructions of his
boss and eternal master and serves up plenty of jokes,
many of which can actually entertain. The film opens
with a humorous cooking contest as S.K. judges a series
of crappy cooks, offering up amusing reasons as to
why they can't make the grade. There are also plenty
of food judging sequences, which explicate
the sometimes exotic-sounding dishes with exaggerated
anime/manga-like reactions from the peanut gallery.
The faked foods are sometimes beyond belief, but at
least they're presented with enough silly energy to
make them sometimes funny. Cooking comedies are always
better when they exaggerate the preparation and effect
of their culinary creations. If you're tuning in to
see actors overact over elaborate, if not realistic
dishes, then Lady Iron Chef has some of the
ingredients you're looking for.
However, there's a big problem
with Lady Iron Chef: it's essentially reheated
leftovers, with some random stuff thrown in to disguise
the fact that you had this meal a good ten years ago.
Forgoing further food metaphors, Lady Iron Chef steals far too much from Stephen Chow's seminal laffer God of Cookery. The films contain different
plots, but they possess suspiciously similar structures,
plus some of the key visual gags are direct lifts.
The final cooking contest is especially derivative
of God of Cookery, except it lacks tension
or anything resembling narrative drive.
tabled, the biggest deal here is probably the multiple
references to the hot-in-Hong-Kong TVB show Beautiful
Cooking. This is really just routine stuff, and
fails to make an impact thanks to its flaccid romance,
laughable attempts at drama, and occasionally amusing
comedy, which also proves quite familiar. Yuen Qiu
beating up her smarmy first love? Kung Fu Mahjong.
The use of aphrodisiac to ignite laughs? Chasing
Girls series. Cheung Tat-Ming as the wacky comic
sidekick? Take your pick from over twenty films. If
this is your third Hong Kong movie, then you could
be in for a surprise. Otherwise, you should close
your eyes and recall when Wong Jing movies starred
better actors, like Chow Yun-Fat, Stephen Chow, or
even Nick Cheung.
On the positive side, Lady
Iron Chef is better than Wong Jing's most recent
comedy efforts, and at least uses its parade of semi-known
faces well. A whole slew of Stephen Chow screen vets
show up in cameos, as does Wong Jing's dad Wong Tin-Lam
and Wong Jing himself, in one of his more amusing
turns to date. Wong Jing's comic smarminess is fun,
and the numerous beatings he receives from Yuen Qiu
may be pure joy to those still angry over Kung
Fu Mahjong 3. Charmaine Sheh fans should be happy
because the TVB star gets a starring role, though
her performance is nothing to write home about. The
same goes for Hacken Lee, who's a better singer than
an actor any day. The younger set gets a rare screen
appearance from Yumiko Cheng, while Cheung Tat-Ming
fans can rejoice because the film has Cheung Tat-Ming.
Yawn. The above probably doesn't sound like a recommendation,
and really, it isn't.
Lady Iron Chef is hard
to really talk about because it's ultimately little
more than what it appears to be: a sloppy, barely
average Hong Kong film that earns whatever cred it
has by virtue of being not as bad as some of its ilk.
That could be enough for audiences looking to kill
time with one of their favorite stars, but even then
it feels disappointing because - odd as it seems
to say it - Wong Jing's comedies were once a whole
lot better. True, I once ripped on stuff like Love
is a Many Stupid Thing or Whatever You Want,
calling them annoying and unnecessary, and my opinion
still stands: those were not really good movies. But
were they more fun than Lady Iron Chef? You
bet. (Kozo 2007)