Magic Kitchen
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Lee Chi Ngai.

Sammi Cheng is the inheritor of her mother's restaurant and her reciepe books, both of which she clings to and doesn't want to change. Her young employee, played by Jerry Yan, has a different idea and wants her to cook from her heart, not from her mother's books. And of course, he's in love, though she is still hung up on her ex-boyfriend, Andy Lau, and tries to console herself in the company of her two swinging girlfriends (Maggie Q and Nicola Cheung).

At last, Sammi accepts a challenge to appear on "Iron Chef" in Japan. Unfortunately, the mock Iron Chef in MAGIC KITCHEN is dull and lifeless compared to any episode of the real IRON CHEF. In fact, the excitement and entertainment value of any given episode of IRON CHEF is higher than MAGIC KITCHEN. It's just not a good idea for a generally languid, slow-paced movie to suddenly make the audience compare it to a much more lively show.

There isn't anything particularly terrible about MAGIC KITCHEN. It's fine, as far as New Year's romance movies go. It's just that there isn't anything terribly interesting about it, either. If MAGIC KITCHEN were made in the west, Gwenneth Paltrow would probably star. Hugh Grant might have a supporting role as the insufferably attractive ex-boyfriend. MAGIC KITCHEN seemed to be trying really, really hard to be one of these types of movies.

Sammi Cheng is really good, once again, attractive, charismatic, and convincing; a good reminder that Miriam Yeung remains a second string talent in comparison. Andy Lau seems to have stepped beyond ordinary mortals in the past year, always a solid performer, it appears he can now do no wrong, and his performance here is no exception. It must be hard to be perfect, but so far he seems to be handling it well.

Lots of cameos -- Daniel Wu, Michael Wong, Stephen Fung, Anthony Wong; all but the last of which just seem to be bent on demonstrating that men are, generally, pigs, and simply use women for their own ends.

Besides the generally glacial pace of the production, the biggest failing is Taiwanese pop star Jerry Yan. It's hard to imagine anyone, let alone Sammi Cheung, falling for the guy, and their relationship looks more like older sister/younger brother. Compared to Andy Lau, the guy is just a wet sock. Hell, I thought Anthony Wong had more charisma than Yan, and would have found the film more convincing if she fell for him instead.

Finally, unlike such Hong Kong gems such as GOD OF COOKERY or A CHINESE FEAST, notably absent from MAGIC KITCHEN is any kind of joyful expression of cooking. When at last, it seems the film is going to get right down to it, the ultimate cooking moment, there is a scene change, and next thing you know, we're looking at the finished dishes. The presentation is great, but the soul is missing. Which pretty much summarizes MAGIC KITCHEN perfectly.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 13, 2004.

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