Kung Fu Chefs (功夫廚神)

kung fu chefs

It’s hard to fault a movie for delivering exactly what its title promises. Indeed, Kung Fu Chefs caters to those oft neglected fans of fighting foodies. Sammo Hung and Louis Fan bring kung-fu credibility, the food looks delectable, and everyone wants to get their hands on something called the Dragon Head Blade. Even the story largely makes sense. You really can’t ask for more.

Well, you could ask for better acting. Hung plays one of the titular chefs, Wong Bing-Yi, a village head who is kicked out and loses possession of the Dragon Head Blade, a glorified butcher’s knife, when someone (who is played by his son, Timmy Hung) sabotages a community dinner and gives everyone the runs. The veteran actor brings a fatherly calm to the kitchen chaos, which is important because he shares a lot of screentime with Vanness Wu, who is not the most skilled thespian.

Wu plays Ken, a student at what appears to be a kung-fu cooking school. Upon graduation, he seeks out the legendary chef Master Sam at the Four Seas Restaurant. Wu struts his way through the film, producing a pensive gaze here, a frustrated snarl there. He reins in the expat punk act and limits his slacker style to tank tops, knit caps, and embarrassing facial hair. A better actor would have given the part and the film more depth, but the fast-moving plot is enough to keep one distracted.

Yi and Ken arrive at the Four Seas only to discover that Master Sam has died, leaving his elder daughter Qing (Cherrie Ying) to run the business. Her role is a bit limited, and though Qing makes some sound decisions to keep the Four Seas afloat, she mostly stands around. Her sister Ying (Ai Kago) has a better time of things, not least because she has her eyes on Ken. Ying’s job is to play up the younger sister bit and whine a lot, which Kago does well.

Yi and Ken inadvertently cause its chef to leave in disgrace, and he ends up at the King of Cantonese, a sprawling restaurant group headed by Yi’s nephew, Joe (Louis Fan). Joe spends much of his time growling from his iron throne. He is nursing a decades-long grudge against his uncle whom he blames for his father’s shame and failure.

Things come to a head at the Best Chef of China competition where Yi and Joe’s restaurants and chefs do battle with duck, oxtail, cabbage, and soup, among other ingredients. In the meantime, there is actual fighting, and generous portions of it. Action directors Yuen Cheung-Yan and Yuen Shun-Yi make the most of knife-wielding cooks and prop-filled pantries to stage the fight scenes, which culminate in a frenzied faceoff between uncle and nephew.

Overall, not bad when you consider the other options. There are some unnecessary special effects and a few inconsistencies in tone and style, but those don’t interfere too much. This one earns its stars for providing 90 minutes of mild entertainment.

Released: 2009
Prod: Jeremy Cheung
Dir: Ken Yip 葉永健
Writer: Wang Bo 王博; Simon Lui 呂志虔
Cast: Sammo Hung 洪金寶; Vanness Wu 吳建豪; Cherrie Ying 應采兒; Ai Kago 加護 亜依; Louis Fan 樊少皇; Timmy Hung 洪天明; Lam Tze-Chung 林子聰; Bruce Leung 梁小龍; Xing Yu 行宇; Wu Jianfei 吳建飛; Ho Kwai-Lam 何貴林
Time: 91 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014