September 30, 2013
Michelle Yeoh makes the standard-issue ingredients and saccharine flavors go down in director Gina Kim’s predictable foodie film.
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)