Timmy Hung Tin-Ming

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

Osaka Wrestling Restaurant (大阪撻一餐)

osaka wrestling restaurant

This movie turns out to be a satisfying treat for weary Hong Kong filmgoers. The industry offers far tastier morsels, but this one is made with lots of heart and that should count for something these days. Timmy Hung and Wayne Lai team up as brothers who cook up an idea for a novelty restaurant after their father, a respected chef, dies and leaves them a large inheritance.

Ricky (Hung) starts out as a glorified kitchen boy at Dragon’s (Law Kar-Ying) restaurant. Everyone heaps on the abuse, and when he gets the chance, he escapes to find his brother, Mike (Lai), who has been working as a chef in Osaka. Despite Mike’s bravado, Ricky can see that things aren’t going so well for his big brother. He gets chased out of his flat when some people come to settle a score, and his estranged wife wants to remarry and relocate their son to Canada.

Since Mike is a fan of Japanese wrestling, he decides to open a themed restaurant in Hong Kong staffed with wrestlers who will serve as waiters and dine-in entertainment. Presumably no one will object to a little sweat sprinkled onto their food. He ends up with a small gang of oddities including a sumo wrestler and someone named Louis Koo. They also hire Kyoko (Ueno Miku), a Japanese reporter stranded in Hong Kong after being fired when someone pushed her into the sea. That someone turns out to be a remorseful Ricky, who dons his wrestling mask to hide his identity. Something about that masked avenger look makes him attractive to Kyoko and sets the couple up for a doomed romance.

Hung isn’t particularly charismatic onscreen, but he has the pleading face of someone whom you’re willing to give a second chance. Lai brings more weight to his role and minimizes the overacting, revealing some touching moments beneath Mike’s boisterous façade. Both do their best to balance sincerity with the movie’s daffy humor, of which there is a lot. Besides bouncing, iridescent clothed wrestlers, Dragon dreams up some low budget schemes to sabotage the restaurant, which is located across the street from his. It’s all a bit of unpretentious fun, akin to a cinematic tea time snack.

Released: 2004
Prod: Sam Leong 梁德森; Yoshida Haruhiko; Matsuyama Hiroshi
Dir: Tommy Law 羅惠德
Writer: Hasegawa Takashi; Ko Cheng-Teng 高井聽; Kamei Noboru; Suzuki Rikako
Cast: Timmy Hung 洪天明; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Ueno Miko; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Sammo Hung 洪金寶; Tats Lau 劉以達; Chin Ka-Lok 錢嘉樂; Gloria Yip 葉蘊儀; Sam Lee 李燦森; Carlo Ng 吳嘉樂
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Love is the Only Answer (人約離婚後)

love is the only answer

Patrick Kong is at it again with another tale of love in the city. Like Marriage with a Liar, cheating couples expound on the nature of romance and relationships; unlike that movie, this one is fairly enjoyable, thanks to the credible acting skills and unexpected chemistry of the leading couple. Lest you be too greedy, still expect snipy women, painful acting, frenetic editing, and a big reveal.

Kong trades up by casting TVB star Charmaine Sheh as his leading lady. Neither an ingenue nor a busty leng mo, à la Kong’s previous muses Stephy Tang and Chrissy Chau, Sheh brings a grounded realism that makes her character Bo seem relatively normal in the hyperactive and reactive world of cinematic Hong Kong women. She takes control of her life, as adults are wont to do, in a very dramatic way on her wedding day – by exposing her new husband Ryan’s (Alex Fong Lik-Sun) sex tape with her bridesmaid (Jeana Ho).

For most, that would end the relationship, full stop. But Kong just uses it as his starting point to spin a nonsensical plot. One year later, Bo and Ryan are getting along fabulously, in a way that has no basis in reality. He uses her to get rid of clingy girlfriends and, since he is filthy rich and the landlord of her fruit stall, she exploits their quasi-friendship to get more favorable rent. They go out for dinner together when good food and good deals are involved, and they seem to enjoy exchanging rapid fire insults and constantly reminding each other that they are in fact divorced. I don’t know divorced people like them, but maybe you do.

Feelings start to get muddled and hurt when Ryan convinces Bo to join a spouse swap. As luck, or the writer, would have it, the couple trade with another young and good looking pair, Lai (Kelly Fu) and Kit (Him Law). Ryan and Lai are eager to dive into things and immediately get on with whatever it is that swapping spouses want. Meanwhile, Bo and a very reticent Kit, who just joined to please his wife, try to turn their awkward situation into something more genuine.

While that part of the story is on slow boil, Kong introduces a minor plot involving an engaged couple, Jason (Jason Chan) and Christy (Anjayliya Chan). Jason spends most of his screen time making puppy eyes at his fiancée, who returns the favor by snapping like a hyena at every single thing. It is an exercise in bad storytelling; this part seems totally extraneous – until the closing minutes of the film when it.all.comes.together. But by then, the couple feel like more of a contrivance, an overly complicated way to squeeze in a commentary on love that would be better made by focusing on Bo and Ryan’s story.

This frantic tying up of loose ends is endemic to Patrick Kong, also serial abuser of flashbacks. As with previous movies, the writer-director slices and dices at will – I want to say like a Jack Kerouac of Hong Kong romantic comedies, but that would be wrong. Again the editing tends to prove distracting rather than reflective, with the action toggling back and forth between past and present and one couple or another.

Kong also cannot overcome his penchant for casting supremely unskilled actors. Sheh and Fong shine like bright stars in his firmament, and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that. The mismatched couple surprises in several ways. They make convincing sparring partners, but I also found myself drawn to the brazen honesty of their characters and relationship. Alex Fong the Younger is devilishly magnetic as the cad. Unfortunately the same appeal does not extend to the supporting cast, which, cobbled together, make about ¾ of an actor. But this is Hong Kong film, so we all have to make sacrifices.

超生記 – themesong by Charmaine Fong.

Released: 2011
Prod: Wong Jing 王晶
Dir: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Writer: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Cast: Charmaine Sheh 佘詩曼; Alex Fong 方力申; Him Law 羅仲謙; Anjayliya Chan 陳嘉寶; Jason Chan 陳智燊; Rose Chan 陳嘉桓; King Kong 金剛; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Fu Ka-Lei 傅嘉莉; Chak Hoi-Tai 翟凱泰; Timmy Hung 洪天明; Charmaine Fong 方皓玟; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Harriet Yeung 楊詩敏; Dada Lo 盧頌之; Evelyn Choi 蔡穎恩; Michelle Wai 詩雅; 6 Wing 陸永; Jeana Ho 何佩瑜; Carol Yeung 楊梓瑤; Raymond Chiu 趙永洪; Bob Lam 林盛斌; Kandy Wong 黃山怡; Tat Dik 狄易達
Time: 90 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014