The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Is he a fairy from the heavens? Or is he Satan form hell?”
Like most westerners who’ve heard of Hong Kong writer, director and actor Stephen Chow, I first became aware of him via his genre bending comedy, Shaolin Soccer. I then saw Kung Fu Hustle on the big screen, and not too long ago caught up with Journey to the West. I think Stephen Chow’s work might represent the entirety of my experience with Hong Kong cinema. Aside from Infernal affairs, but I saw that for its Scorsese connection, not for its Hong Kong roots. What I should take from that realisation is that I need to see more varied movies from Hong Kong. What I actually did take from that realisation is that I need to see more Stephen Chow movies. So I tracked down an early Chow joint, The God of Cookery.
Stephen Chow (also his character’s name) is the titular God of Cookery. Hong Kong’s most famous and revered celebrity chef, he ridicules the efforts of other chefs, while putting his name and face on any old crap if the price is right. Behind closed doors, Chow is a fraud, barely able to cook, and only happy when demeaning his huge staff of underlings and yes men. Until one underling (Vincent Kok as Bull Tong) humiliates Chow in public, and takes the God of Cookery title for himself.
Reduced to living and begging on the streets, Chow meets Turkey (Karen Mok). She takes pity on him and gives Chow a free meal that he finds delicious. When rival street vender Goosehead (Sui Key Lee) tries to intimidate Turkey and send her running, Chow sees an opportunity. Combining Turkey’s famous beef balls and Goosehead’s legendary pissing shrimp, the three create Hong Kong’s hottest new culinary fad, the pissing beef ball. But will Chow handle success better this time around?
Like Shoalin Soccer, where super powered monks used their mystical Shaolin abilities to literally play soccer, The God of Cookery uses a similar style to juxtapose something very real, like cooking, with something very fantastical, like gravity and physics defying martial arts. Only here, that juxtaposition is even more heightened, because this movie is technically set in the real world, with no magic or mysticism on offer.
It’s also proof that Shaolin Soccer was no fluke. Even here, at this early stage, Chow knew how to expertly juggle what should be conflicting tones. From goofy comedy and slapstick, to over the top soap opera emotions, to real heart and tragedy, The God of Cookery constantly flips between the lot, but always feels like lively fun, never reckless disregard for character or story, just for the sake of a joke, or action set piece.
Looking at his IMDB, there are half a dozen more Stephen Chow movies for me to devour. Knowing that, and after watching The God of Cookery, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make up the next six Hong Kong movies I see. I know I should broaden my horizons a bit, but Stephen Chow’s world is just too fun to leave behind.