Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Movie Theater: The God of Cookery 食神 (1996)

Stephen Chow as Stephen Chow in a Stephen Chow movie

The second movie review to be featured on my blog this month, after "Charlie's Farm" (2014) in the inaugural "Monday Home Video" segment last week, but since it's Sunday today, you know this will be a visit to the Sunday Movie Theater instead, the first visit in 2016 at that. ^^

And since it's getting close to Chinese New Year, I picked a Cantonese movie for this posting, and unlike "Rouge" (胭脂扣, 1988), it's all good to be watched during this festive season. ^^

Movie poster is from Wikipedia.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"The God of Cookery" (食神), a 1996 movie directed by Stephen Chow (周星驰) and Lee Lik-chi (李力持). Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB, while the entire story is up on the movie's Wikipedia page.

Not mentioned in the intro above, Stephen Chow is also the screenwriter and producer of this movie, on top of being the protagonist. With his character having the same name as him but with different Chinese characters, the movie is literally all about Stephen Chow. ^^ If you watched and enjoyed "Shaolin Soccer" (少林足球, 2001) and "Kung Fu Hustle" (功夫, 2004), the movies he made in the 2000s that have achieved international recognition, you will see a great deal of Stephen Chow's movie-making magic in this movie. ^^

"The God of Cookery" has a simple and straightforward story, with redemption as the main theme. It's about how Stephen Chow (the character ^^) falls from grace as an arrogant and greedy businessman, finds friendship and love among common folks, rises from the bottom and redeems himself in the ultimate showdown against his arch-rival. Done in an extremely humorous, comical and often nonsensical way that is all too "common" of Stephen Chow's (the movie-maker ^^) style for those who are familiar with his work, it's definitely an entertaining comedy that can be enjoyed purely so. ^^ Even after rewatching it countless times, the humor in many scenes and dialogues don't feel tired at all. Some of Stephen Chow's comments during the initial fake cooking competition (which seems to be a parody of the "Iron Chef" TV show ^^), the flowergirl at the opening ceremony of one of Stephen Chow's restaurants, the find-the-culprit scene with Turkey (played by Karen Mok Man-wai 莫文蔚) and Goosehead (played by Lee Siu-kei 李兆基) with his gang members, the opening sales of Stephen Chow and his team's new business, the final cooking competition and the shenanigans at the Shaolin monastery, which are told through flashbacks during the final showdown are scenes stamped all over with Stephen Chow's style of comical ridiculousness, and I can't stop laughing as I'm writing about them. ^^

As a big fan of the Japanese "Iron Chef" series, seeing many of the show's elements appearing in this movie is a treat to me. ^^

Besides the notable scenes, the characters are a huge part of the mad fun in "The God of Cookery", especially Stephen Chow's new-found friends after he loses his fortune and company. Between Goosehead, that skinny macho-wannabe (XD), the guy who couldn't stop drinking cough syrup and Ba Liang Jin (八两金) being Ba Liang Jin himself, there's no other actors better to portray such a group of nonsensical but lovable misfits in my opinion. ^^ The find-the-culprit scene mentioned above, which features interaction between Stephen Chow and all the street gang members is one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie, and you can sense that the actors themselves couldn't hold back from laughing during the filming of that scene. ^^ I also love Ng Man-tat's (吴孟达) performance as Stephen Chow's evil betraying business partner. This is also one of the few roles in which Ng Man-tat plays a villain against Stephen Chow in the movies they are in together, but he seems to fit that role perfectly.

However, out of all the characters, none is more notable and memorable than Turkey in my opinion. Being a very beautiful actress and a talented singer in real life, Karen Mok's image is absolutely unrelatable to her character in this movie. ^^ As a matter of fact, I think the production team (with Stephen Chow being the main culprit I assume ^^) deliberately went the extra mile to design her character to be as awkward and horrible as possible to up the comical feel. ^^ I'm aware that there's a backstory that explained her deformed look, but it's over the top just like most other parts in the movie anyway. ^^ I often wonder if her "redeemed" look by the end of the movie as well as her separate role as the deity Guan Yin who intervenes during the final showdown are among the in-movie "attractions" Stephen Chow used to persuade Karen Mok to play as Turkey. XD

Christy Chung Lai-Tai (钟丽缇) makes a super-brief appearance in Stephen Chow's flashback scene at the beginning of the movie as well. ^^

Beneath the abundance of laughters, there are many interesting movie-making touches that can be seen in the movie as well. Simple tricks like transitions (a single drop of cold sweat flowing down from Stephen Chow's head in the Shaolin monastery scene as opposed to that with Bull Tong (played by Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu 谷德昭) at the final competition), and repetitions (Stephen Chow getting beaten by the 18 Bronzemen and dragged off after that, comically leaving a trail of blood on the floor) were used cleverly to support the story. Also, the storytelling is clever in linking between plot points through simple elements that seem minor at first, like ping pong ball, assorted noodle, beef rice, foldable wooden stool (XD) to have the objects turn up again to support more significant parts of the story. ^^

Speaking of storytelling, I also look at "the God of Cookery" as the precursor to Stephen Chow's two subsequent movies, namely "Shaolin Soccer" (少林足球, 2001) and "Kung Fu Hustle" (功夫, 2004). Elements from this movie, including a band of minnows fighting against a large corrupt corporation, final showdown being a 1-on-1 competition, a female love interest with over-the-top awkwardness (XD) can be seen in "Shaolin Soccer" (少林足球, 2001), while elements like the protagonist's journey of redemption, the hidden talent of the protagonist that is awakened by the end of the movie can be found in "Kung Fu Hustle" (功夫, 2004). Furthermore, in all three movies, Buddhism-themed divinity plays a huge part in the outcome of their respective final conflict. While some of the ideas may be the director's regularly used theme for his movies, the stories and characters are different between movies and well written, so there's never any sense that the themes are being preached upon or repeated. It's just a similarity that one would notice after watching a few of Stephen Chow's work. ^^

Overall, a highly entertaining comedy this is, which can be enjoyed purely for the comical humor, simple story and fun characters. However, on top of the entertainment value, the movie is also memorable for its interesting storytelling devices and consistent theme from other work by the same director, which gives it a somewhat deeper meaning. ^^

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