An entertaining, often very funny blend of high-energy Cantonese comedy and culinary kung fu, “The God of Cookery” has enough in-jokes to satisfy Asian buffs but is general enough in its appeal to hook adventurous Western viewers too. This latest vehicle for popular Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chiau has been the biggest local earner in a while, grossing a bouncy $ 5 million as of mid-January in Hong Kong alone, and would make a good title to headline any mini-retro of Chiau’s works to date.
Chiau plays a duplicitous food maven (dubbed “The God of Cookery”) who fixes culinary contests so he always wins, franchises his name on products — but can’t actually cook. Humiliated one day by a guy who’d earlier begged to be taken on as his pupil, Chiau hits rock bottom and finally returns in disgrace to mainland China. There, he stumbles across Shaolin Monastery, which turns out to be a secret training center for cooks, and returns to H.K. to take on his arch-enemy in a test of skills.
Pic is essentially a comic riff on the big-grossing “God of Gamblers” series, but also trades on the sub-genre of kung-food movies recently exemplified by Tsui Hark’s classy “The Chinese Feast.” But it’s the Stan Laurel-faced Chiau’s winning personality that carries the movie: working again with writing partner Kuk Tak-chiu, and co-directing with commercial journeyman Li Lik-chi, Chiau has come up with a vehicle that’s high on physical invention but stretches him more as a performer. Following “Forbidden City Cop” a year ago, and now this, his recent decision to make less (but better) movies appears to be paying off.
Actress-singer Karen Mok adds a comically human side as a plug-ugly noodle-stall owner who’s worshipped the phony Chiau from afar. Veteran dynamo Nancy Sit livens up the final reel as a bossy judge of the climactic cooking duel. Technical credits are par.