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South Korea 2007

Comedy, Drama

Jeon Yun-su

Kim Kang-woo
Lim Won-hee
Lee Ha-na
Jeong Eun-pyo
Kim Sang-ho
Jeong Jin
Ahn Kil-Kang
Ha Yeong-min
Lee Jeong-jin
Min Kyeong-jin
Park Kil-soo
Woo Sang-Jeon

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Le Grand Chef

Story: Seong-chan (Kim Kang-woo) is a gifted chef who faces his long-term rival Bong-ju (Lim Won-hee) in an internal contest of his school which will decide his future career. However, for some mysterious reason his blowfish dish seems to be poisened and so he doesn't only lose the contest but even completely withdraws from the business. One day female reporter Jin-su (Lee Ha-na) visits him and tries to persuade him into participating in a cooking contest that is about to decide who is the best chef of the country. Seong-chan has absolutely no interest in applying for this contest, but when he runs into Bong-ju he decides to prove to his rival who really is a true adept at his profession and regain his lost honor from several years ago. Yet, things aren't easy for him because not even are the judges the same ones he poisened back then and therefore aren't really fond of Seong-chan, but he also has to deal with Bong-ju's unfair means with which he tries to secure his win and get the young chef into a lot of trouble.

Review: I'm not really excited about movies that center around food. Of course there are delicious dishes but to glorify them in a movie doesn't strike me as necessary. In the end, eating is just about ingestion. Then again, I'm quite aware that this might only be my opinion as many viewers will have a watering mouth simply by looking at the Korean dishes presented in "Le Grand Chef". And if I think of "Antique", a film about patisserie, which made me have a strong desire for sweets all of a sudden this simply may boil down to being a matter of taste. Therefore, I shouldn't really like "Le Grand Chef". Interestingly enough the movie manages very well to entertain, especially thanks to some aspects other critics found the be some flaws. That is because the film isn't just restricted to showing how certain Korean dishes are made, but also offers a whole lot of side stories which at least in my opinion make the movie work out so well in the first place and also make it score on a moderate drama level.

"Le Grand Chef" is based on a very popular comic and this is also reflected on a technical level. Lots of splitscreens which are used in a very cleverly fashion during the making of the numerous dishes are everywhere to be found and fit into the movie quite well, even the more as they aren't utilized at points where it isn't necessary. The dishes themselves are a feast for the eye of course, particularly because they are prepared and garnished in a skillful fashion. In contrast to that there are also some scenes in which we are shown the whole procedure of preparing a whole fish or cutting up half beef. This not really reminds us of a cook, but more of makes us believe to be standing in a butchery. Probably the intention of those scenes was to show how multilayered the profession of a chef really is. That the choice of ingredients is the essential first step for creating a royal dish is proven to us right at the start and so some of the sidestories center just around acquiring those royal ingredients.

The side stories are also what add a lot to the film qualitywise. In fact "Le Grand Chef" works a lot better in these subplots than in the main story. That's mainly because we can weave a tighter emotional bond to the characters and their personal stories in these subplots. At first glance stories like those of a prison inmate who can make the best coal in the country but doesn't want to share his secret with others seem like an alien object and isolated from the rest of the film, but when looking closer at it we only learn through these stories more about Seong-chan. Without these stories the film would lack its seasoning and moreover every videogame RPG-lover knows that "sidequests" can be even more fun than following the actual story. Even some at first view cheesy looking side stories like that of Seong-chan's cow can cause some tears rolling and that's because they simply work out better than what you would have thought.

Without those enhancing elements "Le Grand Chef" truely would have been only half as entertaining. For one thing that's because of the one-dimensional characters of which especially the villian would have deserved more color, for another thing it's because of the implied romantic relationship between Jin-su and Seong-chan that never really works out well, among other things because Jin-su simply remains too shallow. Furthermore, the resolution at the end deserves some criticism as it inevitably has to remind you of "My Sassy Girl".
Naturally the humor doesn't go short in this kind of lighthearted film either. Especially the supporting cast is responsible for some good laughs, more than anyone else the villian's sidekick who is looking for the taste of the perfect ramen like he tasted it during his military service. The answer to his search is as simple as it is true...
Moreover, the film doesn't only offer enough diversity to keep the viewer hooked at all times but also has a high pacing that is garnished with a little bit of action every now and then, too. It's wondrous how well this works out, even the more as director Jeon Yun-su didn't really prove himself to be a filmmaker that deserves to do anymore movies after his works "Changing Partners", "My Girl and I" or the awful "Yesterday".

"Le Grand Chef" is predictable as it is typical for such movies and so it shouldn't come as a surprise how things will end. However, what's really striking as a serious flaw is the patriotism that finds it way into the movie at the end. Food is to some degree culture and culture means nation and from there it's not a long way to patriotism anymore, but it's something that's a bit annoying. But thankfully, as already said, the predictability of the plot evolvement is made up for by the side stories of which one even jumps back to the Japanese occupation period revolving around Seong-chan's grandfather. Here the movie again works better on a drama level than expected.
In the end I was positively surprised. "Le Grand Chef" is of course simple entertainment, but a movie that does a lot right in this respect, effectively mixing humor and well done drama and while doing so never loses its lighthearted mood. Thankfully this is finally a comedy movie again that doesn't once again center around a love story and therefore "Le Grand Chef" proves to be something that Korean apparently have a hard time delivering: A well done comedy which just mixes the ingredients right.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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