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Rice Rhapsody
|     review    |     notes     |     awards     |     availability     |
Sylvia Chang and Martin Yan
AKA: Hainan Chicken Rice
Chinese: 海南雞飯
Year: 2004
Director: Kenneth Bi
Producer: Rosa Li, Jackie Chan, Solon So, Willie Chan, Gary Hamilton
Writer: Kenneth Bi
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Martin Yan, Melanie Laurent, LePham Tan, Craig Toh, Alvin Chiang, Maggie Q, Ivy Ling Po, Ronald Bi
The Skinny: Writer-director Kenneth Bi brings too much touchy-feely new-agey lyricism to Rice Rhapsody, and the result is less affecting than it is merely programmed to affect. This is an engaging film, though questionably a good one. Plus it needs more cooking.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Sylvia Chang has son troubles in the beautifully made, though questionably good Rice Rhapsody. Chang is Jen, proprietor of a storied Singapore restaurant specializing in the country's signature dish, Hainan Chicken Rice. Jen's business is about to reopen, plus she faces some stiff competition from friend and competitor Kim Chiu (Martin Yan of "Yan Can Cook"), who's trying to invent something he calls "Hainan Duck Rice".

But Jen's biggest problem is her sons. The older two are officially gay, and the third, Leo (Lepham Tan) may be heading that direction. Leo hangs out almost exclusively with his pal Batman (no, not that Batman), causing Jen to fear the worst. But she and Kim Chui have a plan: they'll use visiting exchange student Sabine (Melanie Laurent) as the proverbial forbidden fruit, dangling her in front of Leo everyday. The idea is that this blonde beauty will ensure Leo's straightness, and allow Jen to one day have grandkids. Meanwhile, Kim Chui pines for Jen, and the real-life sales of Hainan Chicken Rice presumably go up.

Rice Rhapsody is one pretty movie, and is the perfect commercial for Singapore as your vacation destination of choice. Not only does it make the country seem friendly, attractive, and tourist dollar-worthy, but it also sells its local cuisine with appropriate gusto. People frequently meet and talk over delicious-looking meals, and whenever Kim Chui exercises his culinary skills, it's easy to pay attention. The problem is that there is far too little cooking, and even worse, it merely seems to function as a plot device. Kim Chui and Jen's cooking rivalry gets little play, and only seems to set up a climactic cooking contest - which is ultimately a smokescreen for a loaded mother-son reconciliation, and not some real culinary competition.

Movies like Rice Rhapsody and Magic Kitchen could learn a thing or two from Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, or even Tsui Hark's The Chinese Feast. In those films, cooking and its entertaining techniques were practically a character in the film. Cooking defined people's lives, brought them together, and made the audience supremely hungry. Most of all, those films made cooking seem joyful, and brought a real life and energy to the screen. In Rice Rhapsody, hunger is achieved, and it does create some conflict, but it ultimately feels more perfunctory than necessary. When the movie's over, you may still order pizza instead of Hainan Chicken Rice.

With cooking removed from primary focus, what's left? Well, it's all about Jen and her three (maybe) gay sons. The depiction of homosexuals in Rice Rhapsody is fairly sensitive, though the attitudes portrayed are not. Jen's acceptance of her sons' sexuality seems more like resignation than support, and her plan is not a very progressive one. Even more troublesome is the character of Sabine. French actress Melanie Laurent makes her charming and attractive, but the character is so infused with new age free-spirit Bohemian values that she becomes a caricature, and her function in Jen's family is of a complete and total plot device. In Rice Rhapsody, it's not cooking that brings the family together, but a sexy French girl who seems to come and go with the wind, almost like she's some magical creature conjured up out of the ether specifically to create insight into the lives of Jen and her three sons. Inspirational screenplays written for screenwriting classes probably have plenty of Sabines. She could be Official Character Type #21.

Rice Rhapsody does engage, and the production is a pleasant and entertaining one. Once again, Singapore looks mighty fine, and the location and cinematography are perfectly accented by Masahiro Kawasaki's score. Sylvia Chang is commanding as Jen, and convincingly conveys her character's doubts, fears, stubbornness, and anger. The film's stuntcasting is also quite successful; Martin Yan is surprisingly sympathetic as the lovelorn and likable Kim Chui - but again, we needed to see him do more cooking! Kenneth Bi loads Rice Rhapsody with enough detail to make it seem like it's doing something, but it's all a little too obvious in its touchy-feely wannabe inspirational emotions. Bi should have aimed for less, and had his characters carry the film instead of their sometimes awkward English dialogue. There's a good idea here, and some effective execution, but ultimately Rice Rhapsody is less successful than it aims to be. (Kozo 2006)

 
Notes: • Director Kenneth Bi has his own blog talking about the Hong Kong film industry. You can find it at http://www.kenbiroli.com/blog.
Awards:

25th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best New Director (Kenneth Bi)
41st Golden Horse Awards
• Nomination - Best Actress (Sylvia Chang)
• Nomination - Best Original Score (Kawasaki Masahiro)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales
Widescreen
International Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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