Back in the 2018 opening post, I talked about injecting more foreign films with a particular focus to catching up and revisiting Hong Kong cinema. I’ve been thinking about a Foreign Friday segment for a good while (years probably) but never found the motivation. We just passed our 7th blogiversary here and its a fine time to embrace what I truly love. Hong Kong cinema was what started my journey into movies and so it makes sense to make it a much bigger presence here. With that said, the rigidness of when to post on a particular day is still on the back of my mind but maybe I’ll get that going once I get back into a groove of reviewing Hong Kong cinema.
To kick things off (and mostly because, I had a chat about it with AC Film Club HERE) is 1996 comedy by Stephen Chow, God of Cookery.
God of Cookery (1996)
Director: Stephen Chow
Cast: Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Vincent Kok, Man-Tat Ng, Stephen Au, Nancy Sit, Kar-Ying Law, Suet Lam
The most renowned and feared chef in the world loses his title of God of Cookery because of his pompous attitude. Humbled, he sets out to reclaim his title. – IMDB
God of Cookery happens somewhere in the middle of Stephen Chow’s successful 90’s career. I would call him the Jim Carey of Hong Kong because his humor is very much in line with how Jim Carey would be. Its absurd and nonsensical and the foundations of what is called “mo lei tau comedy”. However, Stephen Chow’s humor might be lost in translation at times however he excels at making up for it with his comical expressions. Coming from myself who grew up with Stephen Chow and speak Cantonese rather fluently, I can definitely appreciate his humor more than the Western world however, as we’ve seen with both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, he’s a talented comedic actor and while those films differ slightly from his Hong Kong career, it definitely should be ones that will give you an entry point to look at his older works and see if you can find the appreciation for it that I have. The God of Cookery is a nice place to start. He shows off his love for Hong Kong, combines elements of food and martial arts and shows off his successful pairing with Man-Tat Ng who is a partner in crime for many of his 90’s movies. At the same time, you see the likes of Karen Mok and for those more familiar with the older Hong Kong movies, some other talents sneak in there both as cameos and supporting roles.
I’m not going to lie that God of Cookery did take a second viewing to love it more. There is a lot of silliness here and it does get very over the top. Just take for example that the the arrogant cook that starts off the movie has some incredibly insensitive comments meant as humor followed by a rough treatment of the people around him. However, it also emphasizes the character here, also called Stephen Chow. However, the God of Cookery does get dethroned by his arrogance and picks himself back up with a nonsensical product called Pissing Beef Balls and a ragtag group of Temple Street vendors which are funny and awkward in each of their own ways. Alongside of that,there are some funny cameos from some known names in the Hong Kong industry like Nancy Sit and Kar Ying Law who have been around for a while that take on a nice comedic character.
However, the charm of the film does go to the God of Cookery himself and his female counterpart, Turkey (played by Karen Mok). The friendship that started it off and how he realizes her admiration from him and his distaste towards her because of her disfigured face does make for some over the top humor here. Of course, there is a decent superficial element to this as while Stephen Chow does fall for the character eventually, the added bonus is that she has made herself pretty in a turn of events. However, the quirky character that Turkey is makes for some fun bits as she bursts out in a familiar Cantonese song that talks about loyalty, friendship and comraderie, A lot of Stephen Chow’s movie humor is within his dialogue and his puns that will get lost with the western audience unfamiliar with language however, there is also a decent bit of unspoken humor just through his funny reactions and expressions.
Odd, quirky, absurdity and over the top humor is what Stephen Chow movies are about. It captures both the characters and has a rather light-hearted journey of redemption in many cases. The creativity and the dialogue is actually quite vulgar however it also hits a lot of the essence of the Cantonese language and its crafty and clever use. Stephen Chow and Karen Mok are fantastic is this. While I do have to say that even as a fan, it took me a second viewing to fully appreciate it, there is quite a bit to love and enjoy if this is a type of humor that appeals to you. As I always say, humor and comedy is very different for everyone so it really depends on what you like.