Tuesday, March 23, 2010

[HKFILMART 2010 Review] Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle (Sik Gaek: Kimchi Jeon Jaeng)

The New Chef In Town

The first Le Grand Chef had that decapitation scene that will grab your attention and sit up straight, before director Jeon Yun-su brought us up and down the food chain through an intense battle of wills over the preparation of food that's a feast to the eyes on film. Here, the directorial reins of the follow up film got passed on to Baek Dong-hun, and the story though is more of a spin off rather than to continue from where we last left off. In fact, the events in the previous film hardly even warranted a whisper of familiarity, as our hero Sung-chan (Jin Ku, who takes over from Kim Kang-woo) is now a mobile vegetable seller, renowned more for his vege recommendation than for the the top chef he was.

In the first film, it was more of a fancy dress party in the kinds of food that got prepared for the screen, with the cuisine being more varied to suit almost all palates. Here, it focused on the ubiquitous Korean dish Kimchi, though simple, comprises of a range of variety from traditional, hand-me-down homemade recipes, to modernized variations at the other spectrum. It is because the Korean president, when on a trip to Japan, was presented a fusion Kimchi dish by the Japanese Prime Minister that was a point of contention, that he decided to launch a nationwide Kimchi contest to find the best that Korea has to offer.

So there goes the excuse to stage the next competition for the film, involving 3 weeks of competition with 3 themes to have Kimchi represent, involving 3 primary judges of which one is the designated joker of the group who always states the obvious and has some questionable table manners. Like the first film, we go through the creative preparation phase of searching for that X-factor ingredient before the cook-out involving close ups so vivid, that I strongly urge not to watch this on an empty stomach, as it doesn't just involve mainly vegetables, salt and red pepper. The variations of Kimchi here, one will find astounding.

The main rival for our hero is someone much closer to home, his step-sister Jang-eun (Kim Jeong-eun), who had returned from her renowned stint as the head chef of the Japanese prime minister's residence, in order to see to the destruction of her mother's legacy family restaurant known as the Chunyang-gak, because it holds plenty of bad memories of the place, which needless to say put her ties with her mother Sun-guem at a largely superficial level. Sung-chan of course is against that decision, and to protest against her, reluctantly enters the Kimchi battle so that in their private arrangement, he who wins get to decide the fate of Chunyang-gak.

Kim Kang-woo plays his character out this time with a lot more self-doubt, despite the help he gets from his girlfriend Jin-su (Wang Ji-Hye replacing Lee Ha-na). The story cleverly weaves in a new back-story flashing back on his growing up years, which involved issues with his mother and Kimchi, which are the demons he will have to overcome in order to emerge victorious, because he cooks with his heart and his mood of being fearful and filled with hatred inevitably has an impact on his food result. Kim Jeong-eun on the other hand handles the role of the antagonist void of warm and fuzzy human relations, being the cold, calculated and clinical chef that she is, out for a humbling lesson in EQ as she defiantly dukes it out with her step-brother.

As if mirroring yesterday's Asian Film Award results with Korean film Mother garnering Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Film, strong motherly love forms the main theme in his film, rather than something related to food in itself. There's a heavy “mom” flavour in the narrative that's stronger than all the ingredients from the subplots put together, and therein likes a lesson not to take our mothers for granted, which we sometimes do, and to reflect upon the little things they do for us silently in the background, and the unconditional love that every mother will inevitably have for their child.

In this aspect, this theme makes the film extremely easy for anyone to relate to, and easily this makes Le Grand Chef 2 a clear winner. I like, have enjoyed the gastronomical ride, will learn to appreciate the different variety of kimchi out there, and of course, this goes into my recommended list, despite some side show thug characters unceremoniously gatecrashing the show with some lacklustre, unfunny involvement especially with the head thug always having the penchant to speak in English with bad diction.

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