Monday, October 3, 2011

Movie Review: The God of Cookery

The God of Cookery is a funny, funny movie from the Gweilo's perspective.  That's partly because it is intended to be funny--it is a comedy after all--and partly because the humor translates so strangely from the Chinese context to the American.  The movie is a take-off on Japan's very popular (at the time) Iron Chef TV program.  Except this movie is what Iron Chef should have been like:  A cooking competition with shotguns, mysterious uninvited Buddhist monks, remote-controlled bombs, magical fairies, dancing judges, and lots of kung fu.

The Gweilo's Movie Ratings for The God of Cookery
The Chinese movie review continues below this info box!
Category Rating
WTF Meter 3 out of 5
MST3K-Ability 3.7 out of 5
Chinese Movie The God of Cookery
Director Stephen Chow
Actors Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Ng Man-Tat, Vincent Kok
Year 1996
Format Viewed VCD (Universe U333 VCD 1485)

This is cooking where the kung fu is sometimes used for fighting, but is more often applied directly to the art of cooking, such as various kung fu styles of frying.  Also, the pinnacle of culinary success in the world of this film is a dish called “Exploding Pissing Beef Balls.”  Yes it is.  And to top it off, Stephen Chow's movie presents a remarkably engaging story in spite of all the silliness involved.

Stephen Chow is a master of straight-faced, absurd comedy:  Comedy that gets its punch by setting up the most ridiculous situations and then playing them entirely seriously.  He does this very well as an actor, and he does this very well as a director.  In this film, he's both.

Part I -- What a Jerk!

Stephen Chow has cast himself as "The God of Cookery," a fraudulent master chef who runs a large chain of restaurants from his corporate headquarters on the rooftop of a Hong Kong building.  He's like some kind of evil cross between Donald Trump and Ronald McDonald.  He's also a grade-A asshole.  Do you want proof?  Here's how he greets his second-in-command:
Unusual term of affection?
Here's how he greets the woman that will become his romantic interest later in the movie:
This Honk Kong movie shows us a corporate world where your chance of success is directly proportional to how big a jerk you are.  And Stephen Chow is such a success that he walks around his roof-top office suite without pants on, randomly harassing and beating up his underlings.  I've never personally thought of the ability to go pants-less at work as a key indicator of corporate success.  But now I will.

In one scene, he invites an employee to dine with him.  During the meal, he occasionally does something nice for the guy, like hand him a napkin.  Or he occasionally does something asshole-ish, like shove the guy's face into his plate.  This random cruelty is at the crux of his managerial strategy:

Is THAT what's in those Management Strategy Guide books?

The only fly in the ointment of Stephen Chow's corporate dream world is ugly people and things—for some reason he really hates ugly.  Like ugly God of Cookery groupie fans.

And ugly chefs:
In Stephen Chow's world, it is.
And ugly fish:
"ugly" is the word you're searching for.
Before long, though, one of his underlings challenges his place as “The God of Cookery”.  I wish all cooking challenges involved large amounts of kung fu.

Part II -- Redemption

Ousted from his job, Stephen Chow can only turn, in shame and humility, to the ugly, low-life characters of Temple street, characters like "Goose Head", and scar-faced, buck-toothed “Twin Dagger Turkey.”  Turkey used to be beautiful, but she was in a fight where her face was cut, leaving a scar.  As for her teeth, we are told she was stabbed in the spine, which, um, messed up her nervous system, which, um, made her teeth suddenly poke out.  I wish I just made that up.  (Later in the movie, Turkey gets shot directly in the face, which drastically improves her appearance.)

A radical cure for ugly.
With his new humility--and his new, ugly crew--Chow begins to form a second food empire to compete with his old corporation.  The secret to his success lies in combining two of the more loathsome low-life delicacies - “pissing shrimp” and “beef balls” - into “Explosive Pissing Beef Balls”.

As you might guess from the name, these are special meatballs that explode piss all over your face when you bite them:
As you might not guess though, they are also so tough and elastic that you can play ping pong with them:

Dinner, anyone?
I wouldn't have imagined that either of these would be major selling points for a new food, but in the world of this Chinese movie, they are!  Hong Kong just can't seem to get enough bouncy, unstable piss balls!

By the way, we learn of another major selling point to Exploding Pissing Beef Balls, when Chow applies for a loan at the bank for his new business:
Well, OK then.
Warning:  Do not try this yourself, if you are applying for a small business loan!
The film then shows Chow building his second company, and training himself, all leading up to the grand finale cooking competition so he can win back his “God of Cookery” title.  In the process he travels to mainland China and enrolls in what he thinks is a Chinese cooking academy, but which actually is a kung fu school.  And he learns some lessons about true love, and cooking "from the heart."

Oh, and his hair turns white for no reason.

Bottom Line of this Chinese Movie Review:  Should you see this movie?  Yes, by all means yes.  And show it to friends too, if you want to introduce them to the awesomeness that is Hong Kong cinema!

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