Monday, January 22, 2024

God of Cookery (1996)

Stephen Chow is a celebrity chef, known as the God of Cookery. He passes judgment on many other cooks, always negatively. He's not what he seems though, and the truth is exposed by a scheming assistant-The so-called God of Cookery is actually a fraud! Chow is sent tumbling from grace, and finds himself in a poor neighbourhood, where he gets to know the food sellers. At first things seem bleak, but their humble skills and a brainwave of his own lead to the means to make a comeback. Can Stephen reclaim his title of the God of Cookery? And will he truly deserve it this time?...

God of Cookery is another film by HK comedy madman Stephen Chow, and a fan favourite. It speaks volumes about his filmography that something this fun and beloved isn't considered his best only because of how greater his later works are.

This is basically a kung fu film where the fighting is replaced by cooking (for the most part), and it really manages to work. It's an absurd comedy where anything goes. There's an unmistakeable style, and at times it almost feels like a live action anime.

The humour is very Chinese, as expected, with Chow having a particular love of lowbrow jokes. Full of absurdity, slapstick, and toilet humour. Although 'pissing shrimp' really is called that in real life! This kind of comedy might not appeal to everyone, and I'm a bit hit or miss on it, but generally it works here. There was the odd moment I scrunched my nose at, but nothing serious. And when it hits it's really funny! The funniest moment for me was the 18 Bronze Men of Shaolin! I love how it builds each time, with the actors, directing, and music all going hand in hand to hilarious effect.

The dialogue is also wonderfully kooky, with the things coming out of these characters' mouths perfectly matching their over-the-top world. A highlight is the judge during the climax, who spouts wisdom such as: "Good flying skills! The secret of flying skills is that it can make a man who's as heavy as steel fly up high in the sky and make ghosts cry!"

Then there's the film's presentation of cooking. It's exaggerated to the nth degree, but also rooted in reality, and there's a lot on display. Many ridiculously extravagant dishes, from fish sewn together and steamed on one side, deep fried on the other, to exquisitely carved bean curd in the shape of Buddha. And of course there's the film's signature 'pissing meatballs', which look messy and sound disgusting by name, but I'd love to try! The film satirises crazy reality cooking shows, as well as superstar chefs. There's a clear message of 'Keep it simple, stupid', but it's never mean or scathing, only gently mocking. After all, nevermind the creativity, without some of these crazy dishes there'd be nothing to give us a good laugh!

The characters here are a great bunch! The creatively named Stephen Chow starts out as a real asshole. He's rude, brash, arrogant, and treats others around him like dirt. He's harbouring a secret though, and when it's exposed he can't cook worth a damn, he's sent packing. But it's not long before he's got a new idea to get back to the top.

What's interesting though is that Stephen isn't automatically redeemed just because he's an underdog. He's been improved by his new circumstances, but his old instincts are still there, like they've only been dialed back instead of switched off altogether. It takes a greater tragedy (or so he thinks) before he truly begins to change, and attains inner purity, signified by his hair changing colour. The film does a really good job of showing the protagonist's bad side without either sanitising it, or going too far, and we really feel it when he changes for the better.

Bull Tong starts out as a lowly dogsbody, but soon proves himself to be a nasty piece of work. He turns on his master, exposing Chow and taking his title. He fancies himself a good person, but he's far worse than his predecessor.While Stephen was a ratbag, he really only cared about himself. Whereas Bull is full-on abusive, and malevolent. His lowest moment comes when he hires an assassin to finish Stephen once and for all, unknowingly spurring on his enemy's final redemption.

Street cook Turkey is a rough tough girl, with crooked teeth and a big scar. She has an unexpected soft side though, and turns out to be a real fangirl for the God of Cookery! This adds a nice depth to her character, and she really goes the extra mile to help Stephen out, almost to the ultimate degree.

I liked the ending to their romance, but not the plastic surgery bit. It's probably only meant as a laugh I'm sure, but it makes the outcome a little superficial. Although the actress doesn't actually look that different. She still has her unique face, just cleaned up a little, and sans the scar and teeth.

The supporting cast includes a few other street cooks, who are decent though blend together a bit. Then there's the...interestingly named Shaolin master, and the 18 Bronze Men of Shaolin, who are a riot!

The final act is the film at its best. Everything has built up to this moment, where everything the film has done is at its best, from the comedy, to the action, the heart, etc, all making for a great climax. The heavenly intervention comes as a perfect treat, as a homage to Chinese cinema and culture, as a testament to the bizarre, and a satisfying way to conclude things.

The cast in God of Cookery is over-the-top in a mostly fun way! Their performances don't just chew the scenery, they demolish it! At times it can get a bit much, but it's all part of the style, and it mostly works. Chow is a great lead, while Vincent Kok is perfect as the villain, along with Ng Man-tat. Karen Mok makes for an unconventionally looking romantic co-star, helped with some 'ugly' make-up.

Chow not only acts well but pulls off the direction, along with frequent colleague Lee Lik-Chi. Together they make a very good looking film, with great framing, stylish angles, and scenes shot in an energetic and chaotic way. All in an off-the-wall reality TV way, without ever being too jumbled.

God of Cookery has plenty of effects, but without ever letting them dominate the picture. We have people flying about, doing wild cooking moves, blowing up, etc. These moments are accomplished with wirework, some computer effects, and plenty of practical too.

The music is fitting and enjoyable. I particularly liked the track accompanying the 18 Bronze Men, which perfectly captures the film's goofiness. Less fun was when Turkey sings, which I just found grating. And last is a fun Christmas track, which is nice to end on.

The movie ends with a blooper reel, and it's pretty good. There's not a lot, and the last one is a bit weird, but they're nice enough. And seeing Karen Mok cracking up while trying to do the annoying song made it more endearing than in the movie itself.

God of Cookery isn't for everyone, but I found it to be a great time, and it's a perfect introduction to Stephen Chow! You'll either love him or...

No comments:

Post a Comment