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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)


September 27, 2013

Final Recipe (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:48 pm

Final Recipe
9/26/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A mild, feel-good tale about reconciliation of three generations of a cookery-gifted clan.

Humility, harmony and a lot of heart: the three things that Final Recipe’s protagonists discovered to be essential to a good dish are also what shape the film itself. Steering clear of the boisterous aesthetics of many a past masterchef-contest films – Stephen Chow’s God of Cookery, say, or Jeon Yun-su’s manga adaptation Le Grand Chef – Korean director Gina Kim has delivered a mild, comforting oeuvre which channels a reaffirmation of cultural roots and traditional bonds within a crust of a family-reunited melodrama.

While the presence of Michelle Yeoh (who’s also one of the film’s many executive producers) would help raise Final Recipe’s profile among Chinese-speaking audiences in both Asia and in the US – especially when the film, though taking place among Chinese characters in Singapore and Shanghai, is nearly entirely in English – the on-screen gastronomic pleasures would also ease the film into the now burgeoning food-film chain. Its appearance at San Sebastian Film Festival’s culinary cinema section, to be followed by an opening-film slot at the Hawaii International Film Festival on Oct. 10, is bound to just the first outings in similarly-themed programs, mirroring – to a lesser scale, maybe – the travels of films such as Mostly Martha.

Playing the mastermind of a successful, long-running cooking-competition show – or, as the character Julia is described in the film, the gastronomic “grandmaster” – Yeoh is central to the proceedings. But more as a catalyst, mind, as Final Recipe is essentially a film about generational schisms among the men in a clan: the major ingredient in the formula here is Mark (a vibrant turn from the Canadian-Chinese K-pop star Henry Lau), a Singaporean high-school student whose enthusiasm and gift in preparing food are frowned upon by his chef-grandfather Hao (Chang Tseng), who single-handedly raised him with hopes of getting the boy into university rather than taking over his crumbling restaurant.

Running against past mainstream narratives of scions refusing to (and often finally relenting in) taking over a dated family business, Mark’s enthusiasm lies solely on learning his grandfather’s recipes and admiring, from afar, the career of David Chan (Singaporean-born Chin Han, The Dark Knight and Contagion), an established culinary mega-star of Julia’s Shanghai-based TV show – and a man who also recounts of having to rebel against a vanished masterchef-father who tried the utmost in trying to derail his aspirations for a career in the kitchen.

With his grandfather falling ill and his eatery getting nearer to be shuttered for good – partly due to the old man’s open disdain for customers who disagree with his self-proclaimed “real cooking” – Mark’s gambit lies with using what should have been his university fees and fly off in the hope of winning the $1 million cash prize in the Julia-David “Final Recipe” competition. Taking the place of a Russian contestant who doesn’t turn up, the teenager deploys his youthful spunk (cooking an omelette over burning documents when the stove doesn’t work) and inventiveness (revitalizing the pepper paste in the Korean rice dish bibimbap, or serving noodles as dumplings) to emerge into the final showdown with David – a clash which, as Julia’s introduction illustrates, would look at “what family tastes like”.

It’s certainly not that difficult to guess what the film’s big reveal is, especially when David tells Mark – or “Dmitri”, as he’s known – during a brief meeting in the market that “if you’re my kid, I’ll be very very proud”. But it’s the expectation of reconciliation and reunion that drives Final Recipe – it’s the antithesis of the Gordon Ramsay-style reality TV spectacles – an advocacy of warm, interpersonal concordwhich glosses over some of the logical flaws in the back stories which led to Mark’s and David’s agony and angst.

Despite having her own screenplay reworked by George Huang – a fact which explains Final Recipe resembling a director making a big leap into mainstream-style story-plotting – Kim has shown herself still able to mine some of the themes in Never Forever, her Vera Farmiga-starring 2007 Sundance hit about an American woman recruiting a Korean immigrant to impregnate her so as to save her marriage with her Korean-American husband. Final Recipe is all about turning one’s back on middling cultural fusion and returning to one’s roots. The once London-based Julia would find her success back in China, and so would the Singapore-raised Mark find inspiration (from the Shanghainese street snacks which mesmerized him), his big break and estranged parent there; the young chef’s earthly dishes – derided by an American connoisseur as “peasant cooking” – rings in greater acclaim (from the Asian judges) than the fancy French pretensions of his fellow Japanese contestant Kaori (Lika Minamoto).

Backed with a polished production design and more than competent technical values, Final Recipe – which is backed by South Korea’s CJ Entertainment – is Kim’s ticket to prove her credentials for entry into her home country’s commercial filmmaking arena. And with the Seoul-based major now flexing its international co-production muscles, they might look at Kim with some confidence as she conjures a non-exotic piece out of a territory-trotting narrative, where every place is made to seem like home.

Venue: Online screener (San Sebastian International Film Festival, Culinary Zinema section)

Production Company: CJ Entertainment, in a presentation co-associated with Bang Singapore and A Grand Elephant Production

Director: Gina Kim

Cast: Henry Lau, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Han, Chang Tseng

Producers: Gina Kim, Steven Nam, Yeonu Choi, Miky Lee

Executive Producers: Jeong Tae-sung, Mike Suh, Jonathan Kim, Keiko Bang, Michael J Werner, Michelle Yeoh

Screenwriter: George Huang, based on a screenplay by Gina Kim

Director of Photography: Kim Young-ho, Kim Jun-young

Editor: Steve M. Choe

Music: Mok Young Jin

Production Designer: Darcy Scanlin

In English and Mandarin

International Sales: Fortissimo Films

No ratings, 98 minutes

September 23, 2013

Final Recipe (Screen Daily review)

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

Final Recipe

By Mark Adams

Dir: Gina Kim. South Korea-Thailand. 2013. 98mins

A warm-hearted story of cooking and families, the glossily made Final Recipe is a frothy, engaging and gently moving story of a family driven apart and finally reunited by a passion for food. Shot in English (with only a couple of scenes in Mandarin) and with the ever-charismatic Michelle Yeoh on-board as both star and executive producer, it has the qualities to play well as well as being a solid seller.

Set against the backdrop of a televised ‘Master Chef’ competition, the film plays on expected notions of family, love and loyalty (with a dash of melodrama added to give it more taste) while also lovingly filming food as it is prepared. Mouth-watering at times, the beauty of the dishes themselves are almost reason enough to make the film enjoyable mainstream fun, though it is given extra weight thanks for a series of enjoyable lead performances.

Gina Kim shoots with a good deal of energy, mixing up the laughs with the pathos and the food with the fun, and making good use of Shanghai and Singapore locations. And while Final Recipe may well, at heart, be all rather predictable, it is also engaging and gently entertaining.

The film opens in Singapore where renowned but rather grumpy chef Hao Chan (Chang Tseng) is struggling to keep his restaurant going. He is desperate for his grandson Mark (a charming Henry Lau) to study engineering and not become a chef, but little does he know tat at heart Mark simply loves food and wants to be like his grandfather and his father (who vanished years earlier) and work as a chef.

When Hao is taken ill, Mark decides to go to Shanghai and try and enter the high-profile televised Master Chef competition, where the winner from hordes of entries wins the chance to cook-off against legendary chef David Chen (Chin Han) to try and win $1 million. He blunders his way into the competition having not realised he needed to formerly apply taking the place (and name_ of a Russian competitor named Dmitri who failed to turn up.

Julia Lee (Yeoh), executive producer of the show and who is married to David Chen, whose career she launched when he was a humble chef from Singapore, begins to watch over Mark and starts to see his talent. She also unearths the truth of his background and his connection (guess what?) between Mark and David. As Mark makes his way through the cookery competition rounds the scene is ultimately set for a showdown between the two chefs.

The heart of Final Recipe may be pure melodrama, but it is a glossy and enjoyable journey. Henry Lau is engagingly fresh-faced and enthusiastic as Mark, while Michelle Yeoh is sheer class as a woman who comes to realise that she needs to bring a family together to heal a rift that she had been part of.

There are some delightful laughs (as well as cool cooking) in the central section as Mark has to team with three other competitors (played by Aden Young, Bobby Lee, Lika Minamoto) to cook as a team, and while Chang Tseng and Lori Tan Chinn (as Mrs Wang, who tends Hao and helps look after the restaurant) plays things much more broadly (and likely appeal to an older demographic) the film is at its core a quite tender and moving tale of a family finally coming together.

Production companies: Grand Elephant, Bang Singapore

International sales: Fortissimo Films, / CJ Entertainment,

Producer: Yeonu Choi

Executive producers: Miky Lee, Mike Suh, Keiko Bang, Michael Werner, Michelle Yeoh

Screenplay: George Huang, based on a story by Gina Kim

Cinematography: Young-Ho Kim, Jun-Young Kim

Editor: Steve M Choe

Co-producer: Khan Kwon

Production designer: Darcy Scanlin

Music: Young Jin Mok

Main cast: Michelle Yeoh, Henry Lau, Chin Han, Chang Tseng, Lori Tan Chinn, Aden Young, Bobby Lee, Lika Minamoto

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