Reviewed by YTSL
Wong Kar Wai. Tsui Hark. Ann Hui.
Johnnie To. Wong Jing. Love them or hate ’em, it’s undeniably
so that these are auteurs who are familiar to a large percentage of Hong
Kong filmophiles. Additionally, there are a sprinkling of others
-- e.g., Alan Mak, Riley Yip, Wilson Yip and Barbara Wong Chun Chun --
who have latterly gained a following and reputation on the basis of a handful
of, sometimes less than that even, offerings. However, while many
fans of Hong Kong cinema have viewed at least one movie in which erstwhile
United Filmmakers Organization (U.F.O.) partner, Lee Chi Ngai, had a hand
(be it as director, scriptwriter, producer or art director), his is a name
that does not seem to be readily recognizable to quite a few folks.
Maybe this is the result of Lee Chi Ngai’s
not having worked for a while; what with his having decided against being
involved with “The Touch” and “The Sleepless Town” (1998) consequently
being his last directorial effort before he finally returned to the Hong
Kong film-making scene in 2004 with MAGIC KITCHEN (which he scripted as
well as helmed). Perhaps it’s due to his versatility (It can be hard
to believe that the man who made his directorial debut with a rape revenge
work entitled “Vengeance is Mine” could go on to helm such U.F.O. works
as the feel good “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father” and the thoughtful as
well as magical “Lost and Found”). In any case, his name being attached
to this Chinese New Year offering -- rather than it having a star-filled
cast headed by Sammi Cheng, Jerry Yan (of F4) and Andy Lau -- is what got
this admittedly not always in the majority (re)viewer all interested in
checking out the movie that has been described as a comedy but turned out
to be too preachy to strictly qualify as such.
MAGIC KITCHEN centers on a sweet, even if insecure,
woman named Yau (essayed by Sammi Cheng) who is a successful restaurant
owner and does much of the cooking that takes place in the establishment’s
kitchen. Unbeknownst to almost all bar for her faithful assistant,
Siu-Ho (who’s played by a broody as well as dubbed -- in the Cantonese
version of the film -- Jerry Yan), though, the recipes that she follows
to cook up a whole host of culinary delights were actually thought up by
her food lover mother -- an individual who would conjure up a feast in
honor of even an accidental slip by President Reagan! -- rather than herself.
Furthermore, Yau doesn’t seem to possess much of a love of food, never
mind food preparation, and thus considers herself a fraud who’s in major
danger of being found out should she ever do such as accept a tendered
invitation to appear on a popular Japanese TV cooking show.
Nonetheless, Yau allows herself to be talked by
Siu-Ho to visit Japan and check out the rules, regulations and conditions
which she would have to adhere to if she were to take part in that “King
Chef” TV program cum cooking contest. While in the Land of the Rising
Sun, she bumps into an old flame (Tsuen Yau is attractively portrayed by
the guest-starring Andy Lau). Although she tries -- albeit in neither
the most efficient nor ideal way possible -- to get him re-interested in
her, they return to Hong Kong without truly reconnecting. While this
was bad enough, worse was to come: as in Tsuen Yau turning out to be going
out with one of Yau’s two best gal pals (i.e., the sophisticated May who
is played by a badly dubbed Maggie Q, as opposed to the other guy-magnet
essayed by Nicola Cheung). As a result of this state of affairs,
Yau finds herself with more than her suspect culinary abilities, never
mind a cooking contest, preying pretty heavily on her mind...
...Although certain connections are made between
Yau’s loveless, for the most part, culinary activities and her (in)ability
to come by true love with a man, they generally seem rather forced.
Additionally, if I were asked whether MAGIC KITCHEN is more a film about
food (and/or cooking) or love, I would immediately answer that it’s primarily
a romance -- and one that neither needed nor gained all that much from
its main character being a cook (or, more accurately, restaurant owner).
Therein lies one fairly substantial problem that I have with this uncommon
Lee Chi Ngai movie whose surroundings didn’t jive with as well as was far
away from effectively functioning as an additional character for its main
Another is the lack of chemistry that Sammi Cheng
has with the veritable parade of men -- bar, as one might expect, for Andy
Lau -- who appeared as her character’s possible love interests. In
all fairness to them, Stephen Fung seemed to really only be there to be
comic relief as well as was in just a few scenes, and Daniel Wu is in MAGIC
KITCHEN for even less time than his fellow Chinese-American actor (As an
aside: what with its also having Michael Wong in its cast, this effort
appears to have an unusually high Asian-American quotient). However,
it is a damning indictment on the offering as well as the individuals involved
that its leading lady and main man (Jerry Yan, unfortunately) fail to generate
sufficient sparks and sparkle to cast light as to why anyone would think
that this duo would make for a real winning combination at the box office
or anywhere else. Indeed, on the face of their interactions in this
work, it would seem that Ms. Cheng might do much worse than consider having
Anthony Wong (who has a small role here as a writer neighbor of Yau’s --
and seemingly can do no wrong these days) play a romantic partner of hers
in a future dramatic offering instead.
My rating for the film: 6.