The God of Cookery (食神, Stephen Chow, 1996)

Thing about cooking is, you gotta have heart. At least, that’s the main takeaway from Stephen Chow’s 1996 culinary comedy God of Cookery (食神) in which he once again stars as a man who’s become rich and successful exploiting the talents of others but gets a major humbling when his duplicity is exposed by an even more duplicitous, though apparently talented, rival. Only by living among the people and rediscovering the simple joy of ordinary food cooked with love can he regain his true identity as the “God of Cooking”. 

Stephen Chow (Stephen Chow playing a character of the same name but written with different characters) has built up a successful food empire built around himself as a celebrity chef known as the “God of Cooking”. As a popular TV judge on a cooking competition, he makes a point of giving each of the contestants zero points, starting off with words of praise but eventually finding fault with “basic” techniques and even at one point complaining that it doesn’t matter how tasty the dish is because the chef is so ugly it’s made him lose his appetite. Chow treats his employees with total disdain, going so far as making a prospective hire defecate in public in front of a lift in return for a job, while schmoozing with Triads to expand his empire. The Triads, however, are getting fed up with him and have installed a mole in his organisation. Bull Tong (Vincent Kok Tak-chiu) is a talented chef who claims to have trained at the Chinese Culinary School on the mainland. He makes a point of causing public embarrassment to Chow by tearing apart one of his signature dishes at the press launch for the 50th branch of his branded restaurant chain. Chow is exposed as a talentless fraud and thanks to his haughty attitude, his friends abandon him. 

Penniless and destitute, he rocks up at a noodle stall run by Sister “Twin Daggers” Turkey (Karen Mok), critiquing her noodles in the same way Bull had torn apart his. Turkey takes pity on him after he’s beaten up by thugs and accepts him into her mini street gang. It’s Chow who finds an innovate solution to to her turf war with a rival stall holder in inventing the not entirely appetising “Pissing Beef Balls” which prove an instant hit with all who try them, even helping to cure those suffering with anorexia (apparently a widespread problem of the time, at least according to onscreen newspapers). Chow has not, however, lost his cynical streak and wants to get back to the top by opening a nationwide chain of Pissing Beef Ball restaurants, while Bull and the Triads begin to panic about his seemingly unstoppable success. 

Parodying both Tsui Hark’s Chinese Feast from the previous year, and Wong Jing hit God of Gamblers, Chow brings even more of his now familiar slapstick style, turning cookery into a kind of martial art, and even including a brief sequence in which he gets trapped inside the Shaolin Temple and ends up learning some of their patented culinary techniques. As the cynical top chef, Chow stands in for the evils of the age, puffed up on empty capitalism, openly telling his staff to pull dirty restaurant tricks like making the seats small and uncomfortable to increase turnover and filling the drinks with giant ice cubes to keep costs down and encourage guests to order more. Bull Tong, however, goes even further, beating the staff and suggesting they serve greasy, salt-laden dishes like French fries so kids order more soda, ignoring complaints from the chefs that it’s unethical to serve such obviously unhealthy food to children. 

Sister Turkey’s cuisine, by contrast, might not exactly be top table stuff but it makes no pretence of being anything other than it is. Her rival prides himself on using high quality ingredients, even making sure his oil is changed daily, making it plain that your average market hawker (whether he’s telling the truth or not) at least appears to have more concern for his customers than giant restaurant chains do. Turkey’s ordinary barbecue pork and rice dish with a side of egg is the best Chow’s ever tasted because it was made with kindness. He may have been fond of saying that you have to have heart to cook, but it was just one of his soulless catchphrases until he realised it was true. Good food, companionship, love, and a Christmas miracle slowly work their magic until the “God of Cookery” is finally restored thanks to a little celestial intervention, showing the Bull Tongs of the world exactly what they’re missing.


The God of Cookery screens in New York on Feb. 15 as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival Winter Showcase.

Love on Delivery (破壞之王, Stephen Chow & Lee Lik-Chi, 1994)

Love on Delivery posterBy the standards of ‘90s Hong Kong cinema, early Stephen Chow hit Love on Delivery (破壞之王) might seem refreshingly down to earth but make no mistake this under appreciated romantic comedy gem is as zany as you’d expect from the master of surrealist laugh a minute humour. A curious tale of cultural pollinations, Delivery once again stars Chow as an ineffectual loser trying to impress a girl but this time it’s a battle of wits he ends up winning when he unexpectedly finds himself standing up for “garbage” in the face of arrogant elitism.

The film opens not with its hero, but with judo champion Li (Christy Chung) who finds herself persistently sexually harassed by her slimy dojo leader who is apparently determined to win her because she’s the only woman capable of “throwing him over”. Seeing as his chat up lines are things like “my house is really big and my bed is really comfy come and see”, Li isn’t really interested which is why she ends up kissing in the right place at the right time delivery boy, He (not altogether against his will). He (Stephen Chow) is smitten, but Li has been looking for a “hero”, someone big, strong, and manly who can match her martial arts prowess but also respect her as a human being. Unfortunately, He is a weakling and a coward, as Li discovers when the boss of the dojo interrupts their first “date” and tries to thump He who activates his well honed coward skills and dodges the blow which lands squarely in the middle of Li’s face.

Fearing his romantic dreams have been well and truly shattered, He resolves to become stronger so he can fight back which is how he ends up meeting conman and stall owner “Devilish Muscle Man” (Ng Man Tat) who claims to be the last heir to “Ancient Chinese Boxing” as well as a close friend of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan (only he doesn’t like to name drop). Devilish Muscle Man offers to “train” He in the ancient martial arts, for a “small” fee. Though all of Devilsh Muscle Man’s “training” is a sham, He starts to get quite good at it and eventually defeats the dojo boss whilst wearing a giant fluffy Garfield head. However, a new challenger soon enters the arena – a childhood friend of Li’s who went to Japan and has become an “elite” karate champion claims to be the mysterious Garfield head, stealing He’s thunder and Li’s heart along with it! 

Chow may be in a relatively restrained mood, but there are pop-culture references and in jokes galore which eventually culminate in a Hong-Kong vs Japan standoff in which Chow ends up inheriting Devilish Muscle Man’s kung fu persona which saw him fighting in a strange costume inspired by Ultraman (or possibly Chinese Ultraman rip off Inframan). Meanwhile, the big bad – Li’s ex Duan Shui Liu (Ben Lam Kwok-Bun), dresses in an old fashioned Japanese students’ uniform and rails about the “garbage” people of Hong Kong with their “garbage” kung fu which he plans to eradicate through affirming the primacy of karate as the best and only real martial art. He’s first problem is that he actually self identifies as “garbage” – he is only a poor delivery boy working for a tiny cafe which stoops to various scams to trick its customers out of their money and/or complaining and has no real prospects of being able to lift himself out of the gutter despite his new found fighting spirit and commitment to martial arts training. Nevertheless, He decides to own his “garbage” status to stand up for all the other “garbage” people resisting “Japanese imperialism” in the only way he knows how – by using his wits to trick Duan into allowing himself to be defeated.

He, a perpetually “nice guy” who gives away not only his entire wallet but all his clothes to a homeless father, eventually defeats the forces of “elitism” through an acknowledgement of his inferior fire power and an efficient use of the skills he does have to create a confusing atmosphere of chaos which ensures his final victory. A mildly subversive tale of fighting back against “the elite”, Love On Delivery is also a hilarious romantic comedy in which the nice guy gets the girl solely by demonstrating himself brave enough to face defeat with, well if not dignity, perhaps resolve.


Currently available to stream on Netflix in the UK (and possibly other territories)

Celestial Pictures trailer (Cantonese with English/Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Fall in Love at First Kiss (一吻定情, Frankie Chen, 2019)

Fall in love at first kiss poster 2Our Times’ Frankie Chen Yu-Shan returns to the tricky world of high school romance with an adaptation of the perennially popular ‘90s manga, Itazurana Kiss. Fall in Love at First Kiss (一吻定情, Yī Wěn Dìngqíng) is in fact the third time the manga has been adapted in Taiwan following a hit 2005 TV drama and a remake in 2016. Updated for the present day, Chen’s adaptation retains the manga’s trademark zany humour and often questionable approach to romance but imbues it with characteristic warmth and mild social commentary.

Our heroine, Xiangqin (Jelly Lin Yun), falls hopelessly in love with high school superstar Jiang Zhishu (Darren Wang Talu) when she accidentally trips and kisses him on her first day. Zhishu is, however, somewhat untouchable to a Class F no hoper like Xiangqin – Class A students like him have their very own building inaccessible to those without the proper credentials. Despite outsmarting the system in order to hand him her letter of confession, Xiangqin is cruelly rejected with a video of Zhishu’s cool response going viral among her friends. However, when Xiangqin’s house is demolished thanks to an extremely localised earthquake, she finds herself moving into Zhishu’s family home (it turns out their dads are old friends) where she might perhaps be able to get to know him better.

Like the original manga, Fall in Love at First Kiss revolves around Xiangqin’s lovelorn existence as she becomes increasingly obsessed with her apparently unrequited love for the sullen Zhishu whose behaviour is often hard to read. Zhishu’s mother (Christy Chung), a highlight of any adaptation, is a woman much like Xiangqin which is to say extremely cute and cheerful. Having long wanted a daughter she is delighted to have Xiangqin move in with the family and is virtually painting a nursery in the hope that Xiangqin and Zhishu might one day end up together. This is however partly because she knows both her sons are objectively awful – a pair of self-centred, emotionless hyper rationalists and overachievers who might be popular thanks to their successes but have few friends owing to not being very nice. She hopes some of Xiangqin’s unsophisticated cheerfulness might help open them up to the pleasures of being alive.

Zhishu, however, blows hot and cold. He ignores Xiangqin’s attentions until the point she vows to move on, at which time he kisses her to prove that despite everything he is still the sun in her mad little solar system. This is obviously not a very healthy relationship dynamic even as it insists that Zhishu’s arrogance is part of his “cool” rather than a symptom of his insecurity. Even his final declaration of love is shot through with “you know you want me” logic rather than a heartfelt explanation of his reasoning for having been so cavalier Xiangqin’s feelings. Nevertheless, like every other “difficult” romantic hero, we eventually discover that Zhishu is just awkward rather than actually cruel as he finds himself continually conflicted in wanting to be nice to people but somehow thinking it would be inappropriate to do so.

This is largely because he and his brother are snobbish elitists who’ve been led to believe that social inequality is the proper order of things. Xiangqin, a proud Class F sort of girl, wants to show him that they are all “on the same page”, equals despite what the “rankings” might say. Nevertheless she does this in a rather odd way by remaining deferent to his supposedly admirable qualities and following him around despite his constant rejections. In any case, Zhishu’s class conflict is at the heart of his emotional repression as he struggles with his filial duty to inherit his father’s company when what he’d really like to do is become a doctor to be able to help people – a choice he doesn’t quite feel he has the freedom to make and one which feels too warm and fuzzy for the ultra-capitalist, success at all costs philosophy he seems to have been brought up with by everyone except his cheerful mother. 

Sadly Zhishu does not undergo much of a humbling and remains annoyingly successful and prince-like, while Xiaoqing does not suddenly discover her own worth or another purpose in life, but they do perhaps begin to find happiness in acknowledging their fated connection. Chen keeps the increasingly absurd action grounded as time moves on at frantic pace from high school first love to awkward grown up confession but manages to find the sweetness in a sometimes problematic romance as her lovestruck heroine does not much of anything at all other than remain true to herself in order to win her man.


Currently on limited release in UK cinemas.

Original trailer (English subtitles)