Stephen Chows down on some Kung Food in his nonsense comedy God of Cookery
“What ‘God of Cookery’ are you? You know nothing but cheating customers.”
Boy that’s a couple of stretched puns. Still, I bet writer-director Stephen Chow would appreciate them. God of Cookery will leave you with two things: a sensation that you’re not entirely sure of what you’ve seen, and an insatiable appetite for barbecue pork rice.
Stephen Chow plays … Stephen Chow, a celebrity chef with a massive food empire and very few actual cooking skills. He stages elaborate, scripted reality shows that further emphasise his public image as the God of Cookery by hiring chefs for him to chide, while being rude to his subordinates. He takes on an assistant, Bull Tong (Vincent Kok), who seems meek at first, but is revealed to be working with one of Chow’s business partners (Ng Man Tat) to overthrow Chow and claim the title of God of Cookery.
With nothing left to his name, Chow finds himself in the Temple Street market, where he is helped by food cart vendor Turkey (Karen Mok), and they begin to work together by combining two popular dishes: beef balls and pissing shrimp. The immediate success of the dish rekindles Chow’s love of cooking, and he vows to get better so he can beat Tong when he enters the God of Cookery competition.
As you might have guessed, there’s nothing wholly original about Chow’s comedy, at least in terms of plot. With the exception of some of the more strange aspects of the ending, you can easily predict where it’s going to go. Story has never really been his strong suit – it’s always clear where the plot of his films will go – but it’s never really been his focus either. Chow uses this as a strength, taking advantage of the fact that the audience understands the basic story enough that he can take some shortcuts on the plot to focus on the jokes.
And this is where God of Cookery shines. Like in most of his nonsensical comedies, and like an expert chef, Chow takes a pinch of styles from the entire spectrum of humour. His mixes in absurd jokes with cartoonish violence, over-the-top expressions with satire, parody with pratfalls. It’s a bit lighter on the craziness as, say, Kung Fu Hustle, utilising far less CGI and fewer roadrunner physics. He relentlessly piles them on, too, so if one joke falls flat, another one is right there to catch it. So it’s inevitable that not all of the jokes land, but there are so many that you can pick and choose the ones you like and still feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
Again, Chow’s martial arts training comes in handy here. The action-style comedy is not as heavy as in other films of his, featuring really only at the end and even then in small doses. There’s a bit of kung fu-style chopping in the face-off with Tong, and a couple of Triad fight scenes in the middle, but more here the comedy is mostly verbal or visual. This is probably for the better though; Chow’s redemption and character growth is better explained, and the other characters get more screen time because of this, allowing us to get to know, and like, them better.
Karen Mok deserves a round of applause for putting up with the ridiculous makeup she’s in for the majority of the movie. She gives her all in this, and isn’t afraid of looking ridiculous doing it, which results in some big laughs. Chow is a little more one-note, but this probably comes from his own typecasting as a loveable douchebag. And props to Vincent Kok, whose transformation from nervous intern to outrageous villain is as funny as it is instantaneous.
God of Cookery is pretty standard Chow fair. If you’ve seen Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s an hour and a half of fun, with an excellent and eclectic blend of comedy styles. Thankfully it never strays into “been there, done that” territory, and much of the humour feels fresh despite sometimes not necessarily being so. You’ll recognise some of the jokes from other movies, sure, but like his mix of beef balls and shrimp, he manages to make something tasty and new out of the classics.
Verdict: A lower-key film than some of his later works, God of Cookery nevertheless is a great comedy garnished with some excellent actors.
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System:
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Violence: Some mild comedy kung-fu action/10
Times I had to use Google Translate to read on-screen text: 5
Assassins who look strangely like Takeshi Kitano: 1
Food of choice: Barbecue pork, assorted noodles
The God of Cookery (1996)
Also known as: 食神 (sik san)
Director: Stephen Chow, Li Lik-Chi
Writers: Stephen Chow, Vincent Kuk, Lou Man-Sang, Tsang Ken-cheong
Stephen Chow – ‘Stephen Chow’ (史提芬周 Sitaifan Chow)
Karen Mok – Turkey
Vincent Kok – Bull Tong
Ng Man-tat – Uncle
Lee Siu-Kei – Goosehead
Tats Lau – Wet Dream
Nancy Sit – herself (cameo)
Lam Suet – Triad Member
Christy Chung – the girl in the dream sequence
Lee Kin-yan – the nose-picking transvestite
Law Kar-ying – competition host