Director: Gina Kim Writers: George Huang (screenplay), Gina Kim Cast: Henry Lau, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Han, Tseng Chang Rating: PG Runtime: 97 minutes
Food acts as a catalyst for many conversations. It is the global language between cultures, and is certainly one of the more pressing priorities on many folks’ daily lists. A film based around food is always an inviting concept, and when one mixes in an interesting storyline with a talented cast, the result is something to add to your must watch list. Gina Kim’s Final Recipe is more than just another food film, exploring a variety of different topics, and delivering a film experience that is very fresh (pardon the pun).
Final Recipe follows a young man named Mark (Henry Lau), a high-school senior with a talent for cooking. Despite his ability, his grandfather insists that he not dabble in the family restaurant business and take up a profession more stable and secure. Things take a turn for the worst when Mark’s grandfather falls ill and the restaurant he built faces foreclosure. Determined to make things right, Mark enters a national cooking competition in Shanghai with the goal of winning the big prize, taking him on a journey even he did not anticipate. The film deals with moments of exploration, discovery, and revelation, with characters and culinary art being the catalysts along the way.
When one thinks of Asian cooking, a variety of images spring to mind; it could be the bright redness of spicy kimchi or a precisely cut platter of sushi. The fact of the matter is, Asian cooking involves many different countries and cultures, and director Kim makes that evident within this film. Apart from a few geographic mentions and obvious region-specific names, Asia as a whole is very much represented within the film. This China-Korea co-production focuses on the art of cooking rather than a specific culture, even placing western styles into the storyline. Furthermore, the film mixes in just enough mouth-watering imagery and cooking sounds to make one drool, but not enough to lose focus. Food is very much celebrated throughout the film, with Asian cooking examined from a macro perspective, and cooking itself as an art.
The element of universal representation is further applied when one filters down to the cast involved. One glance and it becomes apparent that the cast is from pretty much everywhere: Chin Han hails from Singapore, Michelle Yeoh from Malaysia, and Henry Lau from Toronto, and the individual performances are enjoyable and memorable. The film marks Lau’s acting debut, and he shows much promise in the film business. Han and Yeoh are simply magnificent as always, bringing very sophisticated characters to the table. A notable performance is by Tseng Chang, who plays Mark’s grandfather Hao, a character that it is easy to love by the end of the film. Kim and her team have selected a cast with great chemistry that is evident in the final product. There are a few characters that are a tad stereotypical, but they add to the laughter and fun.
When watching the film, one does get the impression of over simplicity, and sometimes even predictable moments. Final Recipe does, however, bring to the table a few lovely qualities. Kim uses very simple cinematography techniques, leaving out dramatic options unless absolutely required by the moment. One is drawn into the world of these simple characters and their delicious food by the focus of the camera, which remains on them and nothing else. The food and these characters are linked, and neither can exist without the other. This technique, coupled with interesting music and a heart-warming story, makes the overall film experience highly enjoyable.
Final Recipe is a thoroughly enjoyable film, and is one that can be experienced by all members of the family. It strengthens the links that tie food and people, and in this case, food and family. The film touches on the notion of “Asian” culture, the various definitions of family, and what it really means to follow your dreams. It isn’t a corny comedic adventure that is just for laughs; instead, it is aimed at a younger audience with a hope to enlighten, and does so quite well. Be warned, though: you will feel a tad hungry by the end of it all!
Screening Time: Saturday, February 15th at 6:30pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox