Mixing romance, crime story, black comedy, missing-persons drama, modern fairy tale and food to near-perfection, “The Recipe” is a marvelous movie degustation. Centered on a TV producer searching for a sensational recipe and its elusive creator, helmer Anna Lee’s triumphant return to filmmaking (after a 12-year hiatus following her debut, “Rub Love”) is a beautifully packaged treat with broad aud appeal. Fests should make a reservation for this crowd-pleaser, and offshore niches are possible. Domestic biz ought to be tasty when pic bows Oct. 21.
First course is investigative journalism. Television documaker Choi Yu-jin (Ryu Seung-ryong) discovers that the impassioned dying wish of executed mass murderer Kim Jong-gu (Ryu Seung-mok) was for a bowl of doenjang jjigae (spicy bean-curd stew). Flashbacks reveal Kim was so entranced by the stew at a tiny restaurant in the middle of a forest, he surrendered without a fight when cops arrived.
Splitting into parallel strands, the script by Lee and Jang Jin sends Choi on a labyrinthine search for the recipe and another equally complicated quest to track down its creator, Jang Hye-jin (Lee Yo-weon), a mysterious young woman who worked briefly at the restaurant but has since disappeared.
Turning detective, Choi learns something of Hye-jin’s past as a country girl who spent years perfecting her doenjang jjigae and fell in love with Kim Hyeon-su (Lee Dong-wook), a Korean-Japanese winemaker whose overseas relatives demanded that he return home for an arranged marriage. Then there’s the shadowy figure of Chairman Park (Cho Seong-ha); a millionaire whose lost sense of smell was restored by Hye-jin’s stew, Park was the last person seen alive with the girl.
Choi’s magnificent obsession over the precise ingredients and preparation method of Hye-jin’s dish is the movie’s heart and soul. Through his encounters with soybean growers and salt merchants, and recipe-related consultations with chemical scientist Ryoo (Cho Mun-oi), the screenplay shows how basic fare such as bean-curd stew can be embraced by people from all walks of life as a symbol of national pride and identity.
Narrative appears to lose a little of its magic when a major mystery surrounding Hye-jin and Hyeon-su is revealed. But in keeping with the movie’s proven ability to surprise and delight, the story zooms into a whole new set of enriching detours and backstories-within-backstories, which evoke the spirit of foreign – lingo foodie favorites such as “Tampopo” and “Like Water for Chocolate.”
Ryu Seung-ryong is just right as the newsman who starts his mission as a professional eyeing a scoop and ends up deeply affected by the amazing tale he uncovers. Wispy Lee Yo-weon and hunky Lee Dong-wook are nicely matched as the lovers.
Han Jae-gweon’s fabulous percussion- and double bass-driven score, and Na Heui-jeok’s glorious widescreen images of farming fields and rolling hills outside Seoul are standout attractions of a pristine tech package.