God of Cookery
Reviewed by YTSL
In the Hong Kong movie world, Wong Kar Wai
is infamous for working without (much of) a script. However, it is
the industry's comedies -- notably those which feature Stephen Chow (as
a director as well as actor) -- that tend to feel to me like they were
being made up and cobbled together in the most impromptu of ways.
This is in large part because they sometimes do seek to bring together
as well as draw upon so many disparate elements (In the case of this particular
film, they include: Culinary practices, innovations and competitions;
turf battles; street brawls; Shaolin monks and kungfu; and divine interventions)
in an apparent all-out, frenetic bid to induce mirth on the part of their
audience. One not uncommon result of this is a definite unevenness
of tone within a single film. Another is the upping of the "hit"
or "miss" quality, quotient and effect (so that one either likes
the product or just is too befuddled -- not just frustrated or disappointed
-- by it to generally appreciate it).
This is not to say that there's no detectable
basic plot line to be found. For example, GOD OF COOKERY's story
could be somewhat easily summed up in terms of: A master chef (played
by Stephen Chow) being too big for his boots; getting his comeuppance;
finding salvation in humble surroundings and with the help of a woman (Chow
may be its center of attention but Karen Mok is the emotional heart of
this film); and returning to reclaim his place in the culinary pantheon.
Where the surprises and delights lie though is in how he gets from point
to point, and what happens, on his effective journey of learning and discovery
about himself, other people, what (and who) ought to be cherished and eschewed
One of the more incredible achievements for me
re GOD OF COOKERY is how much topical ground it covers and range of emotions
it encompasses without any of it seeming to be too out of place.
Though indisputably primarily a comedy, this film (which has Ng Man Tat
and Vincent Kok as the villains of the piece; and features a cameo appearance
by Christy Chung) really does contain certain rather instructive as well
as touching moments (the latter of which is largely provided by Karen Mok
in her role as a disfigured street vendor named -- I kid you not -- "Sister
Turkey") and even a particular political stance.
With regards to the last element: Perhaps
one really is guilty of over-analyzing a primarily comic movie when one
finds significance in -- Mad Cow disease notwithstanding -- British beef
being the cause of a Hong Konger's downfall, and a traditional Mainland
Chinese institution as well as humbler members of the local materialistic
society being aids for his overall -- not just spiritual -- rejuvenation.
Alternatively, it will be argued that satire and mockery of dominant institutions
can be as great inducers of laughter as -- or especially when combined
with -- low brow physical humor and outright farce (N.B. Even though the
Shaolin temple is clearly established in this film as a "good" place, the
sequences that take place in it most definitely include irreverent -- even
lewd! -- as well as incredibly choice bits!).
Someone I know has criticized Hong Kong movies
as -- among other things -- "preachy". I must admit that he may have
a point here: In that even in such as Jackie Chan actioneers, some
of the most outlandish "wuxia" fantasies and this "mo lei tau" showcase
(Stephen Chow's trademark brand of comedy has been described as "constrained
by neither logic nor reality" as well as translated as ""no-brain" or "non
sequitur"" by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins in their ""Sex and Zen" &
"A Bullet in the Head"" book), certain moralistic elements are fairly prominent.
The genius of a good bulk of these works though is that they highly entertain
and honestly enthrall but also effectively socio-culturally comment and
A large part of what makes Stephen Chow Hong Kong's
box office king (in the banner year that was 1992, three of his movies
were in the top five of cinematic money makers; seven years later, his
"King of Comedy" -- rather than, say, Jackie Chan's "Gorgeous" -- was Hong
Kong's highest earning local film) may well be his truly remarkable ability
to look so winningly earnest and humble(d) as well as appropriately mean
and supercilious. Put another way: He can make people care
and laugh with as well as at the characters he brings to life. Relatedly,
IMHO, this star performer's better movies are filled with dramatic and
illuminating content as well as full of downright fun(ny) moments.
THE GOD OF COOKERY is one of these. How could it not when it contains
amazingly satisfying -- and truly creatively realized -- scenes involving
the astounding effects of such featured dishes as the well-named ecstacy-inducing
"Pissing Beef and Shrimp Balls" and the love-inspired but regret-inducing
My rating for this film: 8.5.