Rice Rhapsody

A comedy about being gay rather than a gay comedy, "Rice Rhapsody" stir-fries traditional Chinese prejudices with Western elements to create a likable but definitely non-spicy dish. Singapore-set family yarn, about a mom who already has two gay sons and doesn't want her adolescent third one to take the same route, wears its liberal credentials a bit obviously, and is sometimes clunkily directed, but outside Asian markets could find a berth in Asian-friendly events.

With:
With: Sylvia Chang, Martin Yan, Melanie Laurent, Tan Lepham, Alvin Chiang, Craig Toh, Andy Mok, Maggie Q, Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Ronald Cheng. (Mandarin, English, Singlish, French dialogue)

A comedy about being gay rather than a gay comedy, “Rice Rhapsody” stir-fries traditional Chinese prejudices with Western elements to create a likable but definitely non-spicy dish. Singapore-set family yarn, about a mom who already has two gay sons and doesn’t want her adolescent third one to take the same route, wears its liberal credentials a bit obviously, and is sometimes clunkily directed, but outside Asian markets could find a berth in Asian-friendly events.

Hong Kong movies about gayness are now a dime a dozen. So writer-helmer Kenneth Bi — son of veteran acting icons Ivy Ling Po and Chin Han, both of whom cameo here — deliberately set the pic in Singapore, where there’s the paradox of homosexual sex being illegal but the gay community being very visible. Though there’s something a little phony about the Chinatown setting (which is effectively little more than a one-street tourist attraction nowadays), the Southeast Asian ambiance, with its multilingual/cultural background, gives the movie a fresh flavor.

Taiwan-born actress-director Sylvia Chang, still looking too young for mom roles, plays Fan Jen, owner of an eatery famed for its Hainan Chicken Rice (pic’s Chinese title). With eldest sons Daniel (Alvin Chiang) and Harry (Craig Toh) way out of the closet, Jen fears for teenage Leo (Tan Lepham), who’s spending far too much time with fellow cycling enthusiast Batman (Andy Mok).

Figuring that all Leo needs is a bit of Gallic ooh-la-la to prod his hormones in the right direction, Jen takes in a doe-eyed French exchange student, Sabine Tavernier (Melanie Laurent, from Gerard Depardieu’s “The Bridge”). Unfortunately, she turns out to be a vegetarian who’s into yoga, animal rights and ecology, and has a b.f. back home.

Pic is actually more about Jen than her sons or their gayness, as she tries to keep the family together. She also has personal issues, including the attentions of rival restaurateur Tan Kim-chui (real-life celebrity chef Martin Yan), who’s carried a torch for her for years. Theme that a family can often be apart but still remain a family that occasionally comes together climaxes in a televised cookery competition.

As the most seasoned pro in the cast, Chang does her best with a Singlish accent, providing an emotional anchor for the formulaic script. In general, perfs have a likable innocence that transcends pic’s awkward dialogue and direction, and tech package is good-looking.

Rice Rhapsody

Hong Kong - Singapore - Australia

Production: A JCE Movie/Arclight Films presentation, in association with the Singapore Film Commission, of a Kenbiroli Movies (Hong Kong)/Ground Glass Images (Singapore) production. (International sales: Arclight Films, Moor Park, Australia.) Produced by Rosa Li. Executive producers, Jackie Chan, Albert Yeung, Willie Chan, Solon So, Li, Chui-inn Lee, Gary Hamilton. Co-producer, Duncan Jepson. Directed, written by Kenneth Bi.

Crew: Camera (color), Lam Wah-chuen; editor, Rob Tinworth; music, Masahiro Kawasaki; art director, Andy Heng; costume designer, Elisa Lam; sound (Dolby Digital), Alan Chong; production consultant, Sylvia Chang. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 9, 2004. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With: With: Sylvia Chang, Martin Yan, Melanie Laurent, Tan Lepham, Alvin Chiang, Craig Toh, Andy Mok, Maggie Q, Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Ronald Cheng. (Mandarin, English, Singlish, French dialogue)

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