The Chinese Feast
Not rated, 100 min. Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing, Anita Yuen Wing-Yee, Kenny Bee, Cheu Man-Check, Xin Xin-Xiong.
Hong Kong director Tsui Hark's first modern-day film since 1992's The Master is also his loosest, most improvisational picture in years. It forsakes the tightly bound and symmetrical plot structures of his previous Green Snake and The Lovers for an easygoing style that makes for a charming movie. Chinese Ghost Story alumnus Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing stars as a reckless young chef in training who, with the help of master cook Cheu Man-check (Wong Fei-hung in the last two installments of the Once Upon a Time in China series), is granted a menial position at the prestigious Qing Han restaurant where he causes trouble to no end and also manages to start up a relationship with a quirky co-worker (He Is a Man, She Is a Woman superstar Anita Yuen Wing-yee). But when rival chef Xin Xin-xiong (better known as “Club Foot,” yet another Once Upon A Time in China regular) challenges Qing Han to a test of cookery skills that culminates in a re-staging of the legendary “Qing and Han Imperial Feast,” Cheung and Yuen must track a masterful chef-turned-scummy recluse (Kenny Bee) in mainland China in order to win the contest. “Kung Food” might be a silly, if somewhat accurate, description of The Chinese Feast since all the challenges, duels, and training sequences on display here occasionally parallel those in Hark's martial arts films. The casting of his regular kung-fu actors only serves to reinforce this idea. However, this is a light, sporadically goofy comedy that may have a couple of moments that seem a little off-target, but are always redeemed by Hark's enthusiastic direction and the fine comic performances of the talented cast. There are many hilarious set-pieces, like Yuen's unforgettable karaoke performance or the shameless slapstick of Cheung wrestling with a giant fish, and the scenes of food preparation are nothing less than fascinating. Far less ambitious than Hark's last couple of films, The Chinese Feast is, nevertheless, driven by an infectious sense of manic silliness (e.g., the scene in which the crew wanders out from behind the cameras to join the cast in a drink) that helps make this a genuinely fun bit of zany nonsense.
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