REVIEW: Kung Fu Chefs (2009)

An exiled chef tries to redeem his good name by helping his former master’s restaurant, and its young workers win a cooking contest.


By Raymond Arcega
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Kung Fu Chefs

Original Title: 功夫厨神
Year: 2009
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Comedy
Director: Ken Yip

Wong Ping Yee (the legendary Sammo Hung) is an esteemed master chef, whose skill and reputation are matched by no one. His fame is justified by his possession of the Dragon Head Cleaver, a symbol of power that only the most skillful of chefs are allowed to possess.

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One night, while preparing for a banquet, he is betrayed by one of his assistants, Leung (Sammo’s real life son Timmy Hung), who frames the great chef by poisoning the entire dinner party. Master chef Wong is then ousted from the village, leaving his great name and reputation behind.

After leaving the village, Chef Wong stumbles upon the Four Seas Restaurant, owned by the Shum sisters Ching (Cherrie Ying) and Ying (Kago Ai) – the daughters of Wong’s own master. There, he encounters a hot-headed cook by the name of Ken’ichi (Vanness Wu), a recent graduate from a Kung fu culinary arts school, who begs Wong to take him as an apprentice.

This film is guilty of following a formula of adding Kung Fu to a story as a gimmick. Granted, it features Sammo Hung, one of the biggest names in martial arts cinema, to establish some form of legitimacy, but his work in Kung Fu Chefs is like Ice Cube in Are We There Yet?

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To kind of balance Sammo Hung’s aging presence, young actors and pop stars were recruited to pick up the slack. The guys and girls definitely cater to the eyes, but whether or not they were strong enough to make the action and over-the-top antics of the story believable is a different story.

We would be lying if we said that the film was without its entertaining moments. The action is fun to watch, and watching the food being prepared is mouthwatering and will make you have the munchies if watched on an empty stomach.

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However, martial arts fans will be disappointed to see that the action choreography offers nothing new to the genre, seeing greats Sammo Hung, Xing Yu, and Fan Siu-wong offer their great talents to a film that can barely justify the need for them.

But hey, in the spirit of these kinds of films, we’re supposed to just have fun with the martial arts-infused story and just have a blast. It worked with God of Cookery and many of Stephen Chow’s other wacky productions. But Kung Fu Chefs just can’t match up to them because its energy level and comedy aren’t absurd enough. The film almost tries to take itself too seriously, which shouldn’t happen in a film in which the characters use Kung Fu to tenderize and cut their poultry.

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Kung Fu Chefs also doesn’t seem to know what characters to focus on. We are introduced to chef Wong from the get-go, and are given his complete backstory. But, towards the end of the film he is totally replaced by Ken’ichi, who we don’t really know anything about other than he’s a hot-headed Kung Fu school graduate.

Vanness Wu’s performance overall was quite empty. Hyped as being an arrogant cook put into place by chef Wong, the film doesn’t give enough time to develop a turnaround from an arrogant, overconfident cook to that of a wiser, humbler disciple (as the ending tries to make it out to be). Even the females, as attractive as they are, were some of the most throwaway characters in the story. Though billed as supporting characters, Cherrie Ying and Kago Ai contributed as much to the character growth of the main characters as they are martial artists in real life.

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Contributing to all this confusion is the rushed plot that starts to happen around the film’s halfway point. What starts off as a story about an exiled chef trying to rebuild his life by helping out his former master’s restaurant transforms into an underdog story revolving around a cooking competition.

Adding to this muddle of scrambled eggs is the fact that Chef Wong tells Ken’ichi to compete in his place, removing what we thought would be the prime struggle of the protagonist: the quest for Wong to redeem his good name. The flow of events is quite messy and makes no sense when trying to stitch together.

But hey, at least we’ll get hungry for Chinese food.


Watch this film…

…if you feel the need to get hungry for hot food and hot guys and girls.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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