HKMDB Daily News

October 29, 2013

The White Storm (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 6:41 pm

The White Storm
10/28/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A narco-thriller that overwhelms with its high-octane action choreography, but underachieves in consolidating its brotherhood-in-peril narrative.

A popular 1980s TV theme song — with lyrics praising a code of honor based on valor and loyalty — anchors Benny Chan’s latest action thriller. Sung and hummed at various points in the film, its meant to illustrate the long-running friendship of the three protagonists, as they bond, bicker and finally turn against each other.

Just as much as it shows the characters clinging to the vision of their good old days, the musical motif can also be seen as a signpost for Chan’s aesthetic nostalgia towards the classics of the past, as he merges his trademark high-octane action thriller tropes with the brotherhood-in-peril melodrama brought to the forefront by John Woo in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But if only The White Storm could match the emotional power of, say, Bullet in the Head, Woo’s 1990 hit, which like Chan’s film, is about three Hongkongers whose close and long-running friendship is torn asunder after a horrendous episode in Southeast Asia. The director might then have proven himself to be still top of his game with the film’s stunning car crashes, complicated gunfights and deafening explosions. But the three lead characters and their connections with each other remain too underwritten – a situation not helped by some of the bizarre behavior and incredible plot twists being foisted upon the protagonists.

Still, it’s a full-on cinematic spectacle, which should secure much box-office traction in Chan’s home city of Hong Kong (where the film premiered on Oct. 25 as the curtain-raiser of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival) and also in a mainland Chinese market very much receptive to cops-and-criminals blockbusters. The director will be looking to go one step beyond the $34.5 million take of his previous film, 2011’s Shaolin. Its genre roots will also allow for a certain presence in Asian-themed showcases, especially overseas, on the strength of its pedigree as the closing film of the Rome Film Festival on Nov. 17.

Chan has certainly made a good call in opting to ditch his latest action thriller’s original English-language title, The Cartel War. So it is that the story revolves around the attempts to decimate a narco-syndicate, but the slightly more ambiguous handle of The White Storm is more suitable for a film that is as much about the psychological maelstroms whirling within its three protagonists as they confront the guilt and angst welling up in them as their pursuit of the narco-warlord becomes a maddening journey towards failure and betrayal. (The film’s Chinese film title remains Sou Duk, or “The Drug Sweep.”)

Over the opening credits, a machine-gun montage provides something of a back story to the film’s three characters: Tin (Sean Lau) and Wai (Nick Cheung) are seen leading clean-up operations in drug-addled nightclubs, while undercover-cop Chow (Louis Koo) is depicted either peddling pills and powder to smacked-out revelers at dive bars around town, or discussing future big transactions with fellow hoodlums.

And it’s after this eye-popping sequence that the story proper begins: during a meeting of this triumvirate in an empty apartment, the viewer is asked to acknowledge the bond among them as they row about the present (with Chow complaining about being confused about his identity with a comic gag about the mind-boggling number of cellphones he has to carry around for different purposes) and muse over their shared past. The austerity of this scene is a delight: the simple, sometimes deadpan exchanges relay — thanks to the strength of the three actors’ performances –their personalities. Tin is the no-nonsense go-getter, Chow the jaded down-and-outer nearing a mental breakdown, and Wai the meek but obviously suppressed junior partner.

In a scenario that harks back to Infernal Affairs, Chow finds himself forced to endure seemingly endless purgatory in the underworld, as his two childhood friends (and current supervisors) coerce him to stay put in gangland so as to draw out the ever-bigger masterminds behind every drug deal. And it’s on this errand that the trio find themselves landing (separately) in Thailand, where Chow is supposed to try and lure the crazed Thai-Chinese drug kingpin “Eight-Faced Buddha” (played here with extravagant flourish by veteran Hong Kong character-actor Lo Hoi-pang) out of his hiding and into the hands of the law (with Tin and Wai’s Thai counterpart played by Vittaya Pansingram of God Only Forgives fame).

Tin’s arrogance and ambitions eventually lead the group into death and disarray, with the film’s first act ending with him pressed into making a choice, under gunpoint, that will change the dynamics in the triumvirate – and until here The White Storm retains a premise ripe for the exploration of shifting and scarred psyches. As the film’s second half picks up five years after that episode in Thailand, the personalities have changed: the reinstated Chow has become the police force’s ruthless rising-star and the crippled and demoted Tin is now the angst-stricken no-hoper, with their switched personalities brought into sharper focus by the return of Wai as a slick, confident avenger of Tin and Chow’s past misdeeds.

Chan has proven himself able in drawing nuanced performances from his stars — after all, it’s under his aegis that Aaron Kwok won Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards with his turn as a disturbed detective in Divergence — and he seems to be on a winner here with the tip-top, malleable forms of Lau, Cheung and Koo (whom Chan also procured to remarkable effect in Connected, his 2008 remake of Cellular). And three flourish, particularly in the scenes that showcase the friendship, guilt and antagonism they feel for and against each other.

Sadly, The White Storm doesn’t exactly offer a full-formed and coherent narrative beyond the premise of plunging these characters into a moral abyss. In a situation that mirrors the illogical narrative that marred Chan’s previous contemporary-set drama, City Under Siege, the five-strong screenwriting team’s desire to instill a twist-heavy plot creates gaping holes instead – the biggest of which surrounds Wai’s reinvention. And the story abruptly falls back into the goodies-versus-baddies binary during the bombastic and excessive final shootout.

Compounded by the deployment of holdover clichés from days past — the relationship between Chow and his wife Chloe (Yuan Quan), for example, is wafer-thin and exists only as if to provide a hostage in the de rigueur rooftop standoff — Chan misses the opportunity for a film that could have, like Woo’s films two decades ago, provided a sharp choreography of both actions and emotions. As the on-screen tempest abates, The White Storm leaves a lot of ringing in the ears but too few pangs of the soul.

Opening Film, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival
Production Company: Sirius Pictures International, in a film presented by Universe Entertainment in association with Sun Entertainment Culture, Bona Film Group, Golala Investment, Sil-Metropole Organization
Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Sean Lau, Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Lo Hoi-pang, Vittaya Pansingram, Yuan Quan
Producers: Daneil Lam, Alvin Lam, Wendy Wong, Stephen Lam, Benny Chan
Executive Producers: Chau Cheok-wah, Yu Dong, Song Dai
Screenwriters: Benny Chan, Manfred Wong, Ram Ling, Wong Chun, Tam Wai-ching
Director of Photography: Anthony Pun
Editor: Yau Chi-wai
Art Director: Chong Kwok-wing
Costume Designer: Joyce Chan
Music: Nicolas Errera
Sound Designers: Kinson Tsang, Yiu Chun-hin, Chow Yuk-lun
International Sales: Universe Films Distribution
In Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai and English
134 minutes

October 20, 2013

To Live and Die in Ordos (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 6:20 pm

To Live and Die in Ordos
10/19/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
Devoid of nuance and filled to the brim with corny attempts to stir emotions, the biopic of a real-life hard-edged cop becomes a propaganda feast.

Ning Ying’s last major film, the 2005 chamber drama Perpetual Motion, was lauded for being audacious enough to have women speaking about their sex lives on screen. Whether that was to be her career pinnacle remains debatable, but her latest film unquestionably sees the filmmaker plummeting to despairing creative depths.

Based on an official feted, allegedly incorruptible police chief in one of the fastest developing regions in China, To Live and Die in Ordos is a piece of unflinching, visually banal hagiography which harks back to the oft-appearing state-backed films about nearly flawless men of iron who place their work before their families and their own well-beings.

The film’s original Chinese title was Police Diary – which is the English title still appearing in the opening credits of the print shown at its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival on Oct. 19. With its backers including state and provincial-level propaganda departments, To Live and Die in Ordos hardly shares anything with William Friedkin’s Los Angeles-set namesake; while also focusing on a law enforcement officer obsessed with getting the job done, Ning never really takes her film to a new level by probing the circumstances in which toiling protagonist is forced to work in.

Instead, the film’s titular city – which has made headlines for the misguidedly lavish infrastructural projects built with the flush of its coal-fuelled wealth in the past decade – is basically spared from scrutiny, with even its sleazy businessmen shown as having recoiled from excess in awe of the just heroics of the leading character.

The Ordos authorities, who was credited as offering much help to the film’s production, are likely very pleased, along with a dairy product manufacturer who has its new production line on parade, and its name shown on screen and referenced in the dialogue. (This is the same company who managed to have a character chugging from a carton of its product in the Chinese version of Iron Man 3.)

Tiring they could be, but it’s not as if propaganda or product placements can’t be given an aesthetic pleasing touch: the problem is that To Live and Die in Ordos simply doesn’t work well in the multiple genres it purports to straddle. It’s too linear as a biopic, too simplistic as a detective thriller, and too corny as a piece of human drama. It’s questionable whether the film will connect with its domestic audiences, not to say of the chance of further festival appearances after its shows at Tokyo and then Vienna next month.

Hao Wanzhong (Wang Jingchun) is simple too devoid of nuance as a central character, with his transformation from middle-school chemistry teacher to ruthless cop never really properly addressed except from the wafer-thin testaments from his kin and associates. Given the wish to shape him as a super-detective, the modus operandiwith which he solves his cases are laughable (this is someone who would drive overnight to a village to catch an important fugitive in an age of helicopters), and the depictions of crimes and crime scenes are unconvincing (a murdered girl was still clutching a sweet, despite having been beaten, hacked and then drowned to death in a bathtub).

To Live and Die is most grating with its over-the-top attempts to stir emotions: the candy-girl image was just one in a litany of scenes aimed to remind Hao (and the viewer) of the harrowing challenges he confronts in the land of psychotic felons – the smalltime robbers and killers, mind you, and not the corrupt corporate nouveau riche of course, who are seen simply as crude men easily guided to the light by Hao’s intervention.

Mistaking bombast as the essential key to move audiences, the film actually begins with a straight-faced, pompous rendition of Hao’s funeral during which his son delivers – in a dramatic tone belying his young age – a stirring eulogy. Thus begins the reconstruction of the hero’s life, shaped in the work of a cynical investigative journalist Hua Wei (Sun Liang) as he researches and interviews people for a feature article on Hao.

Hua started off declining the assignment, telling his superior that he has avoided writing about such heroes because of past experiences of having his subjects being later revealed as villains by diligent netizens. But as he roams the land talking to Hao’s family and friends – his wearing of a vest emblazoned with the name of China’s official news agency probably speaks volumes about what is to follow – he is converted: no one has a bad word to say about Hao, and the fact that Sun relies heavily on only official documents and Hao’s 68-volume diaries probably offers some kind of foregone conclusion of his change of heart.

The only flaw allowed on screen is how Hao, the great get-things-done fellow that he is, once bellowed about how journalists should all be thrown into jail for raising doubts about how the system works – and of course this is quickly resolved as an law-graduate aide convinces him, in a little speech resembling an official policy dictum, about the importance of rule of law. It’s too convenient a way to explain away probably the dark side of Hao’s good-cop persona – an approach which is more suited to teledrama, which the film actually sometimes resembles with its hackneyed use of slow-motion, whiteflash cuts and freeze-frames.

It’s perhaps a shame that Ning, whose Perpetual Motion has indeed given women more of a voice and presence in addressing taboo issues, would have Hao’s wife, the schoolteacher Meng Wenjuan (Chen Weihan) as possibly the main hindrance for Hao’s pursuit of spreading peace and justice in his realm. She is depicted as someone unsympathetic to Hao’s (admittedly warped sense of) professionalism, yelling at him on the street, on the phone and resorting to emotional blackmail of sorts so as to get him to come home to dinner or spend more time with his son. Inevitably, like everyone, she would repent and admit – through a letter stored in Hao’s near-empty safe at the office – that she understands him after all. Whether anyone else off screen would empathize with the artifice on show, however, is probably another issue – a matter which, given the film’s treatment, is hardly one rivaling the importance of life and death.

Venue: Competition, Tokyo International Film Festival
Production Company: Inner Mongolia Blue Hometown Film, in a presentation with Inner Mongolia Film Group Corporation and Ordos Radio and Television Media
Director: Ning Ying
Cast: Wang Jingchun, Chen Weihan, Sun Liang, Hou Yansong, Bai Bo
Producer: Huhebateer, Mu Ren, Zheng Tao
Screenwriter: Ning Dai
Director of Photography: Sean O’Dea
Editor: Jia Cuiping
Music: Liu Sijun
In Mandarin
113 minutes

October 18, 2013

Today and Tomorrow (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 5:56 pm

Today and Tomorrow
10/18/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A cliché-laden tale offering too few insights about urban malaise among young migrant workers in Beijing.

Chinese director Yang Huilong’s feature debut follows three twenty-somethings navigating their lives in bustling Beijing.

It’s perhaps apt that two of the major onscreen emotional breakdowns in Today and Tomorrow involve characters bawling their eyes out while singing well-known musical numbers about dislocation and disappointment. Yang Huilong’s directorial debut about the three disfranchised youngsters in Beijing is abundant in second-hand emotions and lacking in original ideas in both aesthetics and narrative — and most devastatingly, it’s missing a genuine understanding of and empathy toward the have-nots cast to the wayside as China lurches towards its glaring capitalist future.

Today and Tomorrow betrays a wide range of influences from yesteryears: the handheld camera work depicting angst-ridden, lustful young people living in gloomy rooms harkens back to the work of Sixth Generation Chinese filmmakers like Lou Ye and Wang Xiaoshuai, while the TV melodrama gets a look-in with plot points about characters choosing between profit and principle (think Teng Huatao’s hit series Wo Ju) and caricatured characters (the prostitute with a heart of gold; excessively effeminate fashion designers). The film has been given some festival pedigree after its bow in Tokyo International Film Festival’s Asian Future section, but its middling mix of mainstream and alternative approaches might put off viewers of both cinematic camps.

Set in the soon-to-be-demolished migrant-workers ghetto of Tangjialing in Beijing’s northwestern outskirts, the film revolves around three disillusioned provincial-born twenty-somethings whose miserable material existence in the Chinese capital makes them part of the “ant tribe.” No need to fret for those who don’t know the backdrop and the term: Yang has made sure viewers will understand everything by playing out official announcements about the demolition plans — not just once, but three times throughout the film — and also an oddly-inserted radio program news bulletin snippet about the underemployed and underpaid workers toiling in the city. It’s the kind of exposition that betrays a lack of elliptical approach towards the story — a formalist flaw that mirrors the story that follows.

The story begins with a couple, the jobless Jie (Wang Taodie) and the fashion-design college graduate Ranran (Shu Yao) moving into a cramped room next to their friend Wang Xu (Tang Kaikin) — the first time the pair have had a space to their own, and a footing that might allow them to make inroads into a stable life in Beijing. Needless to say, it’s a greasy social pole they’re trying to scale; Ranran is forced to endure the advances of the tailor she is an apprentice to, while Wang’s dreams of becoming a CEO are constantly upended by either his conscience (when he refuses to partake in crooked practices as an insurance salesman) or his intellect (when he saves himself from a pyramid scheme unfolding in a disintegrating back-alley room). And Jie does, well, mostly nothing — with his main vocation being lamenting about having done nothing.

And so this triumvirate of jaded young minds march on, their enthusiasm dimmed and hopes trampled with Jie’s seemingly ill-advised attempts to sell his girlfriend’s portfolio to established designers, while Wang’s affection for a streetwalker (Yin Shanshan) only end in stones being thrown and flats being emptied out. So far, so realistic — until the characters’ anguish is somehow resolved, all thanks to humility and human persistence.

If this sounds uplifting to the point of being dogmatic, one is to be reminded that Today and Tomorrow begins with the aforementioned public-information announcement (”Let us create a wonderful future!”) and ends with an upward-looking shot of the Chinese national flag fluttering in the wind in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. It would be erroneous to daub Yang’s film as propaganda, but it’s certainly fair to say the film, like state ideology, which praises resilience and suppresses rebellion, reduces a social problem into this simple, hope-springs-eternal discourse.

But what’s most disturbing is how the film fails to connect with the downtrodden when it posits itself as a champion of the underdogs. In one of the final scenes of the film, Wang Xu — who is happily working away in a small glass bottle factory — is asked by a middle-aged colleague why a university graduate like him would want to become a laborer. Without battling an eye, the young man says he’s treating his job as merely a break, a “year off” before he goes in for the kill in the corporate universe again.

Pity his comrades who have no such futures to aspire to; same goes to Ranran’s neighbors whom she dreams of as bumbling quirks in a reverie about parading her dress along the corridor of her tenement — a presaging of the good news she will inevitably receive later, a stroke of luck that wouldn’t befall the others. This negligence is consistent with how the low are left nameless (the prostitute is never called by name, even if the character is listed as “Zhang Hui” in the credits) and how the Tangjialing community is merely a backdrop to the three characters’ lives, its erasure (along with its down-and-out inhabitants) from history only returned to in a brief onscreen text before the credits roll at the end. Today and Tomorrow certainly reveals an uncertain future — for Chinese filmmaking and Chinese society in general.

Asian Future, Tokyo International Film Festival
Production Company: Beijing Jiamao Pictures Television Culture
Director: Yang Huilong
Cast: Tang Kailin, Shu Yao, Wang Daotie, Yin Shanshan
Producer: Wang Yaxi
Executive Producer: Ursula Wolte
Screenwriter: Lin Shiwei
Director of Cinematography: Sun Tian
Editor: Hugues Danois
Music: Henri Huang
Sound Director: Liu Yang
In Mandarin
90 minutes

October 10, 2013

Einstein and Einstein (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 12:44 pm

Einstein and Einstein

10/6/2013 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
It’s not easy growing up female in contemporary China in Cao Baoping’s bittersweet family drama.

Cao Baoping’s drama revolves around a middle school girl who struggles with exclusion and lowered expectations.

A 13-year-old middle school girl struggles with exclusion and lowered expectations in Einstein and Einstein, a critical but bloated look at coming of age female in modern China. Cao Baoping’s empathetic film is a modest one that takes its sweet time getting to where it’s going, but it’s filled with small moments that add up to a moderately insightful condemnation of hundreds of years of child rearing, even if it’s a familiar argument.

Anchored by a strong performance from it’s young star Sophie, Einstein and Einstein is the kind of contemporary drama that connects because of its relevance and resonance, as well as working as a peek inside modern urban China.

Li Wan (Sophie) is an only daughter until middle school when her father’s second wife gives birth to a son. Long before shuffled off to live with her grandparents, Li Wan is kept in the dark about the boy’s existence altogether and suspects nothing when her distant father starts showering her with gifts, one of which is a puppy that Li Wan initially rejects (and treats horribly). Of course, the dog wins her over and a tight bond forms, and of course, the dog is ripped from her life. To describe Li Wan’s ordeal with the dog as symbolic of larger family issues is an understatement. The dog, Einstein, also serves as the final, gruesome symbol of just how desperate Li Wan is for her dad’s approval and affection.

One of the most telling segments revolves around a business banquet Li Wan is forced to attend with her father. When the boss asks her what she likes to read he pooh-poohs her choice of Stephen Hawking and turns his attention to Zhao Zhao reciting classic Chinese poetry. Li Wan’s frustration is palpable. It’s miserable stuff, but Cao leaves room for a happy ending that suggests the modernization of China is an iterative process that will trickle down to the Li Wans of the world — eventually.

A Window on Asian Cinema
Cast: Sophie, Zhang Xueying, Guo Jinglin
Director: Cao Baoping
No rating, 119 minutes

Letters From the South (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 12:32 pm

Letters From the South

10/6/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
An uneven but contemplative collection of migrant tales.

In a portmanteau of six short films, Southeast Asian filmmakers explore the links between the Chinese diaspora and the Middle Kingdom itself.

Letters are only meaningful when they are meant to be two-way communication – and the significance of the six shorts in the omnibus film Letters from the South could be gauged by their abilities to contemplate the ever-shifting relationship between the Chinese diaspora (”the South”) and China (the roots in “the North”). Posting a mix of melancholic and comic questions, this Malaysian-produced portmanteau offers substance rendered in a range of styles, and will inevitably be of interest to film programs examining either China or migration issues.

The six shorts could be roughly divided into three groups: the first pair, Aditya Assarat’s Now Now Now and Midi Z’s Burial Clothes sees different generations casting glances northwards. Assarat’s Thai-Chinese schoolgirl reflects on how her mainland Chinese cousin has transformed herself from a shy nobody into her current alluring, artistic self; for the Myanmar-Chinese director Z, it’s all about the hopes of returning home, as a granddaughter helps realize his grandfather’s final wishes by bringing the funereal attire he left in his ancestral village back in China.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans Sun Koh and Royston Tan offer tales closer to home. The former’s New New Panda using a pending Chinese takeover of a Singaporean radio station to reflect on how one of its veteran production staffers positions himself culturally; the latter’s Popiah, which looks at how kinship is fostered through traditional cooking.
The final two episodes are leaps into fantasy: in a whirl of quick edits of nocturnal images in the titular Malaysian city, Tan Chui Mui’s A Night in Malacca reflects on the possibility of revisiting the nostalgic sentiments of exiled Chinese writer Yu Dafu; as he described how memories subside in the tropical Southeast Asian heat.

But at least Tan’s conversing with someone or something with her entry: the same couldn’t be said of Malaysian-born Tsai Ming-liang’s Walking on Water, which is nothing more than a love letter to his hometown of Kuching. It’s a shame the film ends with a letdown since the what comes before shapes up to be a contemplative collection of affecting migrant tales.

A Window on Asian Cinema, Busan International Film Festival
Production Company: Da Huang Pictures
Directors: Aditya Assarat, Royston Tan, Midi Z, Sun Koh, Tan Chui Mui, Tsai Ming-liang
Cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Lulu Huang, Wu Kexi
In Thai, Mandarin, Teochew, Cantonese and English
105 minutes

October 1, 2013

Final Recipe (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:33 pm

Final Recipe

September 30, 2013

Michelle Yeoh makes the standard-issue ingredients and saccharine flavors go down in director Gina Kim’s predictable foodie film.

Jay Weissberg

Standard-issue ingredients get folded into “Final Recipe,” a largely English-lingo heartwarmer about a high-school student entering a “MasterChef”-type contest and finding his long-lost father along the way. The always welcome presence of Michelle Yeoh makes the saccharine flavors go down slightly better, yet there’s no getting around the feeling that helmer Gina Kim (“Never Forever”) was doing this for money rather than out of a passion for the product. Given the popularity of food-related pics, it’s likely “Recipe” will find a decent number of middlebrow consumers, though no one will mistake this for anything but empty calories.

Crotchety grandpa Hao (Chang Tseng) faces the closure of his restaurant in Singapore because he refuses to adapt to modern palates. Grandson Mark (singer-actor Henry Lau) gets the bright idea of entering the Final Recipe competition in Shanghai so he can use the prize money to keep the family afloat, but he has to hide his scheme from the old man, whose one ambition is for the kid to get an engineering degree.

An embarrassing montage of Mark taking in the sights of Shanghai, eyes agape and baseball cap askew, segues to the tryouts, where, since he never thought to submit his own application, he pretends to be a Russian contestant who didn’t show up. The competition is hosted by Julia Lee (Yeoh), looking to rejuvenate her hubby, master chef David Chen (Chin Han), who’s been kind of down recently — could it be because Julia is barren? Might he be thinking of the family he left behind in Singapore 15 years earlier? After impressing Daniel Boulud with a perfect omelet, Mark wins a place in the cookoff, teaming with predictably diva-ish contestants yet upstaging their theatrics with grace under pressure and honest down-home cooking.

Admittedly, the chow looks great, but the surrounding foam, metaphorically speaking, is beaten stiffer and glossier than egg whites in a meringue. Dialogue and situations are equally predictable, and editing seems to have already figured out how to fit in commercial breaks for inevitable TV rotation. Presumably the South Korean and Thai producers decided that shooting in English would maximize international sales, though the line deliveries don’t come trippingly from everyone’s lips (Lau and Han are notable exceptions).

Shooting was largely done in Thailand, and visuals are notably slick, combining the polish of high-end cooking shows with the feel of a tourism-board ad. The occasional use of sappy tricks like a slo-mo dash in the rain only reinforces the material’s soapy nature.

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Culinary Cinema), Sept. 21, 2013. (Also in Hawaii Film Festival — opener.) Running time: 97 MIN.

(South Korea-Thailand) A CJ Entertainment presentation of a Grand Elephant, Bang Singapore production. (International sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam.) Produced by Yeonu Choi, Jeong Tae-sung, Steven Nam, Gina Kim. Co-producer, Khan Kwon. Executive producer, Miky Lee, Mike Suh, Keiko Bang, Michael Werner, Michelle Yeoh.

Directed by Gina Kim. Screenplay, George Huang, based on a screenplay by Gina Kim. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kim Young-ho, Kim Jun-young; editor, Steve M. Choe; music, Mok Young-jin; production designer, Darcy Scanlin; costume designer, Chantika Kongsillawat; sound, Sung Ji-young; sound designer, Hong Ye-young; associate producer, Pak Chaisana.

Michelle Yeoh, Henry Lau, Chin Han, Chang Tseng, Lori Tan Chinn, Bobby Lee, Lika Minamoto, Aden Young, Byron Bishop, Patrick Teoh, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Daniel Boulud. (English, Mandarin dialogue)


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