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Original Title:

South Korea 2009

Comedy, Drama, Romance

Lee Seo-goon

Ryu Seung-ryong
Lee Yu-won
Lee Dong-wook
Jo Seong-ha
Lee Yong-nyeo
Park Choong-seon

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The Recipe

Story: TV producer Choi (Ryu Seung-ryong) hears an interesting story. The last words of a serial killer who was to be executed were that he regrets not being able to eat a certain stew one last time. Because of the oddity of these last few words Choi investigates the case and finds out that the serial killer didn't show any resistance at all when after a long cat-and-mouse game the police finally arrested him. He was completely intoxicated by the stew he was eating. Choi becomes curious how a simple stew can have such an impact on a man. Further investigation get him on the track of the woman who made the meal, Jang Hye-jin (Lee Yu-won). However, it proves to be difficult to find her. It seems that there was a man in her life she loved and who she was searching for the last few years. When one day a man turned up at her doorstep and offered her help she suddenly disappeared. But Choi's search doesn't just center around Jang but also on the ingredients that make her stew so extraordinary.

Review: If you expect a movie about food when reading about this Korean genre mix then you might get disappointed, because in fact there is only one single dish to be seen. Instead "The Recipe" can score with some fresh ideas, though, which are only marred by an ending that after all still returns to well-tried drama formula. Nevertheless, there is something special about the movie, something dreamlike and magical that every now and then comes to the surface. Thus, "The Recipe" stands out from similar works and is a nice surprise. It just remains a bit frustrating, that the filmmakers didn't stick to that refreshing note until the very end, because then something really wonderful could have become of the film.

At first it's more than anything else exciting to watch a detective story which doesn't deal with murder or something similar but centers just around a magical dish - in this case "doenjang jjiggae", a bean paste stew - whose cook producer Choi wants to find. Nonetheless, the hunt for the woman and the ingredients for the recipe is very thrilling and moreover goes hand in hand with a good amount of humor that can actually make you laugh. Especially Ryu Seung-ryong ("War of the Arrows", "Children") shines in his role as a TV producer and delivers a very charismatic performance. Accordingly, it is even the more sad that his character almost completely loses its importance during the second half of the film.

In the course of the movie we get flashbacks, inventive fade-ins and fade-outs, interesting editing and even a small anime insertion. Some of these technical gadgets create some welcome originality and make the movie more interesting. Furthermore, there are also some nice pictures, that along with the dreamlike score by Han Jae-kwon create some pretty romantic scenes in the sense that you can lose yourself in a magical world. There are also some nice shots of nature that invite you to do so. Also, we get to see in a fascinating fashion how you grow the ingredients for a perfect "doenjang jjiggae". Unfortunately, some of the supernatural moments don't work out that well and instead even harm the story. It would have been better if the movie had simply sticked to creating movie magic and not "real" one.

But the few supernatural phenomena aren't the biggest problem of the movie. In the second half the film shifts its story to Hye-jin and her boyfriend. Suddenly, the inventiveness you believed to have seen in the movie at the beginning goes completely missing. An uninspired romantic drama story unfolds that can only arise some interest because of the pictures and the music that manage to create those sweet magic that you learned to love in "The Recipe". Why the filmmakers had to withdraw from the unusual and well-told story just to cling to well-tried formula in the end remains a mystery. "The Recipe" would have deserved better and we actually didn't expect anything less from it after the first half.

The story also gets a bit convoluted, which is because of the confusing narration, but it still remains easy enough that you can generally keep track of what's happening. What follows is frustration for the viewer since the movie couldn't keep up the courage to bring something original to the screen. The ideas actually were there, but instead plot holes and an unfavorable narration towards the end have been put to use in order not to lose a wide audience. What a pity. But if you think, after reading these lines, that "The Recipe" is just another one of countless dramas after all, then you are wrong. There is still that small spark of noteworthiness that makes this one recommendable.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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