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Year: 1997 "You smell like fish."
Jordan Chan and Yasuko Tomita
Director: Yim Ho
Cast: Jordan Chan Siu-Chun, Yasuko Tomita, Law Kar-Ying, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Lau Siu-Ming, Law Koon-Lan
The Skinny: Affecting but extremely different adaptation of Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen. Those who love the book may be put off, but others may find themselves enchanted by Yim Ho's radical vision.
by Kozo:
     Banana Yoshimoto’s popular novel undergoes a radical adaptation courtesy of director Yim Ho (The Day the Sun Turned Cold). Yim shifts the focus from Makiage to Yuichi, changes their names, moves them all to Hong Kong, and expands the narrative in more cinematic ways. 
    Jordan Chan is Louie, a young hairdresser who lives with his transsexual mother Emma (named Eriko in the novel and played here by Law Kar-Ying). When an acquaintance dies, they take in her granddaughter, an emotionally shocked girl named Aggie (Japanese actress Yasuko Tomita) who won’t speak, eat, and does nothing more than sleep in the kitchen, listlessly. Emma and Louie accept Aggie wholeheartedly, and the three form a tender family circle as Aggie slowly leaves her wounded shell. But, tragedy also strikes Louie’s life, and he finds that the pain Aggie felt echoes his own feeling of loss and loneliness.
     Aside from loss, the film also explores the connection between food and sex, and the emotions and senses that feed our hunger. The scenes between Louie and Aggie especially bring this theme to life, and there is an occasional erotic charge to their playful sparring. The casting works well, especially Law Kar-Ying and the expressive, lovely Yasuko Tomita. Jordan Chan continues to show that he’s probably HK’s most versatile young actor. Law Koon-Lan shows up as Chika, who has the only name that remains unchanged from the novel (though she doesn’t seem to be a transvestite in the film). Yuichi’s numerous jealous girlfriends have been consolidated and given screen life by Karen Mok. 
     What's jarring about the film is simply its departure from Yoshimoto's novel. Director Yim Ho changes the story considerably, adding new depth and flavor to the already rich novel. The result is something existential and poetic, but also potentially alienating to fans of the book. If this were something Yim Ho could call his own, it might be possible to laud him for his lyrical work. However, since Yoshimoto's sensibilities were so ingrained in the novel Kitchen, Yim Ho's resulting film seems almost self-congratulating in its over-stylized storytelling. This is an affecting work that weaves some semblance of magic, but
only if one can let go of their affection for the novel. (Kozo 1997)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
English and Chinese Subtitles
image courtesy of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen