SHOGUN AND LITTLE KITCHEN is Ronny Yu’s 1992 comedy about the residents of an old apartment building called Peace Avenue, possibly “the poorest place in Hong Kong.” Uncle Bo (Ng Man-tat, LEGACY OF RAGE, A BETTER TOMORROW 2, SHAOLIN SOCCER) is the owner, and he acts grouchy, but he loves them all like family. It’s kind of a shithole – the air conditioner will explode if you turn it on – but it’s good people. There’s a market right outside, people selling soup and sharpening knives and stuff, so there’s all kinds of activity, it’s a whole community. Somebody’s trying to buy the building for $10 million, but Bo won’t sell it because it has sentimental value. It belonged to his late wife. You don’t give your late wife’s building to some rich developer asshole. Or at least you shouldn’t.
Although this one’s not really an action movie, there’s a huge stunt sequence about five minutes in. A bunch of men in hard hats are trying to evict a dude named Ping, and he’s not going peacefully – he’s out on the balcony swinging a knife around, yelling about not fearing death, when the railing breaks and swings out and he’s hanging upside down (now fearing death). Luckily a young man who has just walked up looking for Uncle Bo jumps into action, parkouring, leaping and swinging himself up to rescue Ping.
This is Bo’s nephew Tang Ta Chi (Yuen Biao, GAME OF DEATH, EASTERN CONDORS). We hear that he was “suf-chef in a circus” and “cooked for over 100 persons” on the Beijing Acrobatic Team. He mentions being an acrobat in Peking, but I’m not clear if that’s still his job or not.
After seeing him save Ping, though, everybody treats him as a hero. This guy Chao Wai Chang (David Lui, PROJECT A 2) says “Tang Ta Chi, you’re a master of kung fu, we’ll become buddies in no time.”
“Do you know Kung Fu too?” Chi asks. And he says:
Hey, that’s my skill set too! I can relate to this guy.
Then all the sudden this brooding rich boy Feng (Leon Lai, FALLEN ANGELS, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS) motorcycles his way into the movie. This billionaire’s son has been in the UK but came home to celebrate his birthday. It offends him to see his father (Jimmy Wang Yu, THE MAN FROM HONG KONG) making business deals at his party because it’s also the anniversary of his mother’s death (killed in a fire started by his birthday cake candles!). They fight, he rides off on his motorcycle (throwing away his helmet because he’s so self-destructive!), ends up getting beat up and bike-jacked before being discovered unconscious in the street by Bo. He accepts Bo’s hospitality and lives in the building, not telling anyone that he’s actually a rich guy just rolling with this Prince and the Pauper opportunity that has fallen into his lap.
Like I said, these are good people, so when he tells them he’s been disowned by his father they all gather around to give him soup and tea and encouragement. He can see that these poor people know how to live. Bo has him work at his food stall and teaches him how to cook.
This is a food movie, almost like Yu’s version of TAMPOPO. Chi works at the stall too, and is very competitive with Bo. There’s a duck cooking montage cutting between Bo’s brown meat and Chi’s orange. They have philosophical disagreements too. Chi likes doing tricks, throwing food and ladles around and impressing crowds, but not Bo, who says that Chi has “good appeal but bad taste.”
Chi gets so good at show-off cookery that he gets an agent (Monica Chan, GOD OF GAMBLERS II) and travels around doing cooking demonstrations where he does flips and juggles and gets people from the audience to double dutch with a jump rope made of rolled dough. Bo doesn’t respect it and is a dick about it to both him and the agent. He’s alienating Chi by not supporting his career decisions, just as Feng’s dad is doing to Feng.
By the way, I just want to include a screengrab of something we see Feng do in the brief flashback of his normal life as a rich kid. I don’t really know what this is and I doubt it has any real significance, but I think we all have a right to see it.
Feng living overseas in an English-speaking country is another example of Yu’s movies reflecting his life experience. But the character he relates to most could also be Bo’ s daughter Ai (Maggie Siu, PTU, VENGEANCE), who’s working as an assistant to a designer and has to lie in order to get his approval. She wants to go to art school in France, and also wants to learn English from Feng. Her dad loves her but he’s all about staying home and being a hard-working craftsman. She yearns to travel the world and be creative. They have trouble understanding each other. I imagine Yu has sympathy for all of these viewpoints, though his career as a film director has more similarities to Ai’s commercial design and Chi’s showmanship than Bo’s traditional craft.
Feng and Ai fall for each other, which results in a playful spraying-each-other-with-hoses montage, but eventually bad things have to happen – and it involves Feng’s asshole dad trying to buy the building. Just as tensions are flaring between Bo and Chi, somebody tries to sabotage his business by poisoning his soup. So Feng, having become a member of this community, goes to try to convince his father, “I am not asking you to help them or to pity them. I just want you to think: when you make millions of dollars, don’t hurt others too much or you’ll pay for it!” (This is what I wish I could tell the anonymous rich people who push out my neighborhood businesses.) But then everybody finds out who Feng is and think he’s undercover. So he has to prove himself. Earn his keep.
There are a couple cultural things that I didn’t really understand. One is a reoccurring joke about drinking papaya soup to become more feminine (or get bigger boobs or something?). The other is the joke (?) that everyone calls Chi “Uncle,” possibly at his insistence, but I’m not sure.
I call this a comedy, but most of the jokes don’t really translate except as broad goofiness. That’s okay because the characters and story are likable enough to be invested in. Once again it’s not my favorite Ronny Yu movie, but it’s a sweet, sincere story of community, family, class, and creativity, in a visually and culturally interesting location. Yeah, this is pretty good.
Tomorrow: We might take a Marko Zaror break if I can finish my review in time. If not… here comes the bride.
on Monday, April 10th, 2023 at 7:00 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.