sat 13/07/2024

Master Cheng review - slight but soothing Finnish-Chinese romance | reviews, news & interviews

Master Cheng review - slight but soothing Finnish-Chinese romance

Master Cheng review - slight but soothing Finnish-Chinese romance

Thought Lapland was only for Santa? Summer job for Shanghai chef casts a new glow

Kitchen romance blossoming: Anna-Maija Tuokko and Chu Pak Hong

There’s a long tradition of foodie romances proving art-house cinema hits – think of Babette’s Feast, Tampopo, and Chocolat. Sadly, it’s unlikely that Master Cheng, a gentle and very slow Finnish-Chinese coproduction about a chef from Shanghai charming the Nordic locals with his cleaver skills, is going to light up the UK box office. 

Written and directed by Mika Kaurismäki (Aki’s older, less outrageous brother), this is a languorous fish out of water (and into sweet and sour sauce) story. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong above right) and his young son Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) turn up in a Finnish village out of the blue. Filmed in Lapland (near where the Kaurismäkis started their Midnight Sun Film Festival), Pohjanjoki is pretty but sparsely populated. Essentially it’s a wide spot in the road with locals working the gravel pits and doing a little hunting. 

The bus drops the newcomers at Sirkka’s Diner where the lunch buffet consists of lumpy mash and sausage in mystery gravy. Niu Niu quite rightly refuses to eat it, but Cheng is determined to wait for a mysterious friend he only knows as Fongtron. His patience (and ability to swallow Sirkka's cooking) endears him to the divorcee who owns the diner. When Fongtron doesn’t show up, Sirkka (Anna-MaijaTuokko above left) takes pity on the father and son and lets them stay in a spare room. Fortuitously, a coach filled with Chinese tourists breaks down just outside her diner and Cheng whips up a delicious chicken and noodle dish on the fly. Never has Sirkka’s till rung so enthusiastically.

Cheng travels with his own boxed set of spices and soon he is cooking delicious Herb Rain Dear (sic), and poaching perch caught in the lake. The traditional Chinese recipes prove a hit with the locals who not only find them delicious but are convinced by Cheng that his dishes also have healing properties. Apparently popping what looks like goji berries into soup will lower blood pressure, lead to easeful bowel movements, and eradicate period pains. Don’t all rush to the exotic food aisle at once as the film doesn't come with a recipe book.

There’s some linguistic misunderstandings and a little light jeopardy around visas. Veteran Finnish actors Kari Väänänen (above right) and Vesa-Matti Loiri (above left) take the chef under their grizzled wings and provide some much needed Kaurismäki comedy involving Tai Chi and saunas. 

For those of a sensitive disposition, so much steamy elderly male nudity on screen may induce a need for a tonic slurp of Cheng’s reviving soup. The film takes a long time for the all too predictable romance between Cheng and Sirkka to blossom and justify a blissful honeymoon in China.

As a movie, it's all a bit sweet and pointless except as an advert for Finland as a holiday destination and Chinese cuisine. But if you are longing to spend two hours dreaming of idyllic lakes, big skies, and the reindeer-filled forests of summertime Lapland while eastern Europe goes to hell, then this is the film for you.

Don’t all rush to the exotic food aisle at once


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Why the ageism in your review?: "For those of a sensitive disposition, so much steamy elderly male nudity on screen may induce a need for a tonic slurp of Cheng’s reviving soup." Are old bodies deemed gross in society and are old people having sex deemed gross in society? Vs young bodies and young sex as superior?

I agree with Colette’s comment above. It’s great to see a variety of bodies onscreen, especially when they are confident and happy in their own skin. Perhaps fewer people would get body dysmorphia if they saw a better variety of types and learned to chill out about it. Also, it’s just in passing and hardly the main point of the film. There isn’t ‘so much’ so the reviewer’s comment is completely irrelevant. The film is great.

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