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God of Cookery

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 03/14/04 08:45:29

"Those fools at Benihana's got NOTHING on the G.O.C."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Slicing and dicing like a bipedal cuisinart, Steven Chow brings his brand of martial arts humor to THE GOD OF COOKERY, where he plays a wealthy master chef who falls from grace, and must learn the secret of the Shaolin culinary arts in order to best his nemesis and return to fame and fortune.

Quick-witted and arrogant, the so-called God of Cookery struts about as the master of the Hong Kong epicurean scene. After mocking and disqualifying several master chefs from a major competition for the most trivial of reasons, he decides to take in the eager protégé' Bull Tong (Victor Kok), a chubby and seemingly harmless chef who manages to work his way into Chow's good graces (after more than a little ridicule).

But the tables quickly turn when Bull Tong embarrasses Chow at the opening ceremony for his newest restaurant chain - both by out-cooking him, and by bringing to light a scandal in which some children received food poisoning from eating Chow's brand-name take-home dinner products.

Suddenly finding himself broke and out on the street, Chow finds an unlikely alley in the outspoken street chef "Sister Turkey" (the very pretty Karen Mok, who has been given the "ugly stick" makeover here with fake scars and some nasty buck teeth). Sister Turkey is the kind who doesn't take guff from anyone, plus she makes a mean bowl of Barbecue pork and egg over rice (not to mention her culinary secret weapon, "pissing shrimp").

When the G.O.C. and Sister Turkey join forces with a local gang of culinary thugs, they open their own restaurants. Bull Tong and his associates laugh this at, until their little venture really takes off and becomes a nationwide favorite. Fearing that Chow will return to oust them, they send a hit man to kill him. The Assassin ends up killing Sister Turkey instead (or so it seems), who is obviously in love with Chow and takes the bullet for him. But when Chow narrowly escapes, only to stumble across the front gate of a Shaolin temple, he discovers the Shaolin art of cookery just in time to make his big comeback in an upcoming competition against Bull Tong.

God of Cookery (a fast and loose parody of God of Gamblers, which stars Chow-Yun Fat) is more of the usual fast, loud, funny, and exuberantly over-the-top filmmaking one would expect from Hong Kong writer/director/actor Stephen Chow. And while it lacks the focus and polish of his more recent (and wildly popular) Shaolin Soccer, it is a mostly funny piece that only occasionally overstays its welcome. Although a good 20 minutes of subplots and random comedy bits that don't quite fit into the overall flow of the film could have been excised, the result is still one of the better action-comedy hybrids to come out of Hong Kong cinema in the past decade. Non-Chinese audiences will have to suffer the additional onus of sitting through some really bad subtitling (from either horribly translated and grammatically atrocious dialogue, to a complete lack of subtitles for any on-screen text). However, since much of the comedy is visual or physical, the film suffers only slightly for it. On the bright side, there are some dazzling displays of cookery as ingredients and cooking implements fly around the screen in a culinary whirlwind.

With SHAOLIN SOCCER already garnering cult status in the West, Stephen Chow is definitely one to watch in Hong Kong cinema, and Western audiences will finally be able to "discover" what Chinese viewers have known for years; that Chow is a pretty damn funny guy. My only hope is that he doesn't come to the States and become a big mainstream success - not because he doesn't deserve it, but because I would hate to see him become a watered down version of himself, which is exactly what Hollywood has done to Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and John Woo. Stephen Chow, keep it coming - but remember, brother, keep it real!

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