Saturday, February 18, 2017

Cook Up a Storm

Thought not really a romance at all - it’s not even really bromantic in terms of the two male leads becoming close friends - Cook Up a Storm opened on Valentine’s Day and, because that was a Tuesday and there were various previews, other openings, and special events the rest of the week, it wound up having four different schedules in its first four days, which worked out okay for me because, as it slid back from nearly 8pm on Tuesday to just after 6pm on Friday, I was able to match it up with my schedule attending the Sci-Fi festival. It’s trickier than it sounds, because that one is scheduled very tight - in part because, during the winter, the Somerville Theatre doesn’t generally have 9pm shows from Sunday to Thursday, so they want the fest’s show going in pretty early (or the festival doesn’t want to pay to keep the theater open later; it works out the same way). So, if I’m going to see something at any place other than that theater, it can be tough matching the way multiplexes stretch things out to the one-after-another scheduling.

Fortunately, this not only ran at 6:45pm on a night when I figured I wouldn’t bother with Westworld, having just seen it on the big screen a couple years ago, but it had an unusually short preview package (just The Great Wall and The Devotion of Suspect X), so I had a fair amount more time to get up the Red Line than I expected. Still, getting to Boston Common by 6:45pm from Burlington meant no chance to actually eat, and while I’m no foodie - to be perfectly honest, I am a complete culinary coward - it seemed vaguely wrong to grab a concession stand pizza and soda to eat during this movie.

Pretty sparse crowd, and I wonder why that is; it’s a fairly fun movie with a nice cast, and I wonder if Hong Kong/Cantonese just doesn’t draw as well in Boston as China/Mandarin movies, or if the weird release date threw people, or if maybe Magnum is a bit behind China Lion in rallying a crowd. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this, but it still seems like a bummer. I also kind of wonder if it’s a bit delayed - there’s a goofy New Year’s thing at the end, but I’m pretty sure Chinese New Year was a couple of weeks ago.

Kuet zin shek san (Cook Up a Storm)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2017 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

There are certain themes I see in every Hong Kong movie that makes it to America these days, even though it’s kind of simplistic and patronizing to expect the changes in the city and its relationship to the rest of the world - basically, the reason why Hong Kong makes the papers - is going to be the focus of any film made there. For better or worse, it’s part of Cook Up a Storm, but so is everything else; the filmmakers are cramming about five different food movies into this one. The jumping around makes it kind of hard for any one story to really grab the audience, but there’s something kind of nice about how this allows its small stories to stay small rather than get too caught up in self-importance.

It mostly takes place in two restaurants across from each other on Spring Avenue, which has long been the culinary center of Hong Kong. “Seven”, named for its founder (Ge You), has been there for thirty years, serving Cantonese favorites at their very best. The current head chef is Sky Ko (Nicholas Tse Ting-fung), the nephew Seven took in twenty years ago when his father left to travel the world. “Stellar” just opened across the street; it’s a well-financed gourmet spot where Sino-Korean chef Paul Ahn (Jung Yong-hwa) and his assistant Mayo (Michelle Bai Bing) tend toward European cuisine. It doesn’t take long for Paul & Mayo to rub Sky and his girlfriend Uni (Tiffany Tang Yan), Seven’s manager, the wrong way, which will play out in a number of ways, from impromptu cooking demonstrations to the attempts by Stellar’s owners to redevelop the whole street to a televised competition on “Chef Please”, the winner of which will go to Macau to compete against “God of Cookery” Mountain Ko (Anthony Wong Chau-sang).

My eyebrows raised a bit at what folks were calling Mountain, although it doesn’t seem as though there’s any connection between this and Stephen’s slapstick comedy by that name akin to the way that the recent From Vegas to Macau movies link to the God of Gamblers series; it must just be a common Cantonese phrase. Instead, director Raymond Yip Wai-man and writers Manfred Wong Man-chun, Liu Yi, and Hana Li Jing-ling combine two or three light dramas: There’s the story of a neighborhood institution keeping on in the face of gentrification here, a rival between local traditionalism and international fusion made personal there, a shocking personal betrayal for one chef and a family schism for another. That’s not a bad set of things to have running in parallel, but instead they wind up going in sequence, creating the feeling of jumping around, plots resolved without getting time to simmer, and no feeling of the stories having something similar at their base and being united.

Full review on EFC.

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