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The Lady Iron Chef

Hacken Lee, Charmaine Sheh, and Yuen Qiu in The Lady Iron Chef.

Chinese: 美女食神  
Year: 2007
Director: Billy Chung Siu-Hung
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Charmaine Sheh Si-Man, Hacken Lee Hak-Ken, Yuen Qiu, Wong Jing, Liu Yang, Bonnie Wong Man-Wai, Cheung Tat-Ming, Yumiko Cheng Hei-Yi, Zuki Lee Si-Pui, Winnie Leung Man-Yi, Gao Lu, Patrick Tang Kin-Won, Alice Chan Wai, Tin Kai-Man, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Otto Wong Chi-On, Gill Mohindepaul Singh, Ng Chi-Hung, Wong Tin-Lam, Wong Yat-Fei, Lee Kin-Yan, Lam Chi-Chung, Lee Lik-Chee, Master Chow Chung
The Skinny: Your standard Wong Jing rip-off special that both amuses and annoys. For Wong Jing material, this is better than his recent efforts, but it's still a far cry from his best work. Plus, if you've seen God of Cookery, Lady Iron Chef loses extra points.
by Kozo:

Wong Jing raids Hong Kong Cinema again for The Lady Iron Chef, a cooking-themed wackfest that manages to amuse when it's not ripping off other movies. The problem: it rips off other movies far too often. TVB star Charmaine Sheh stars as Ceci, a beer girl who falls for restaurant empire heir S.K. To (Hacken Lee), whose name is supposed to be funny because it resembles SKII, one of Asia's top cosmetics brands. That minor gag aside, S.K. lives beneath the iron rule of his overbearing mom (Bonnie Wong), who's trying to get S.K. fixed up with Jade Rice (Liu Yang), a Mainland beauty who's also an ace chef. When S.K. introduces Ceci as his chosen girlfriend, Mom retaliates by saying that her daughter-in-law must be a gourmet chef. Since Ceci simply can't cook (her instant noodles are legendary for their lack of culinary quality), this condition presents a bit of a problem.

Enter Lady Green (Yuen Qiu), a legendary chef in Macau who once upon a time had some sort of rivalry going with Jade Rice's father. She also was the first love of Ceci's dad Souza (Wong Jing), a smarmy fellow who wants Ceci to get hitched to S.K. To so he can share in the cash. Lady Green isn't keen on helping out Ceci at first, but once she discovers that the Rice family is needling Ceci - and that Jade Rice is angling to take Ceci's guy - she signs up to help turn Ceci into the number one chef in the world. The stage is set for a monumental showdown between Ceci and Jade, with S.K. due to marry whoever comes out on top. One wonders why S.K. can't just choose the girl he wants, but he seems rather content with being the prize in a wacky cook-off. Of bigger concern is that there's just one month left before the big competition. Can Ceci become Julia Child in only a month?

Sure she can, because this is a Wong Jing movie, and Wong excels at throwing away all reasonable logic and story development in favor of ripped off gags and convenient plot devices. Director Billy Chung follows the instructions of his boss and eternal master and serves up plenty of jokes, many of which can actually entertain. The film opens with a humorous cooking contest as S.K. judges a series of crappy cooks, offering up amusing reasons as to why they can't make the grade. There are also plenty of food judging sequences, which explicate the sometimes exotic-sounding dishes with exaggerated anime/manga-like reactions from the peanut gallery. The faked foods are sometimes beyond belief, but at least they're presented with enough silly energy to make them sometimes funny. Cooking comedies are always better when they exaggerate the preparation and effect of their culinary creations. If you're tuning in to see actors overact over elaborate, if not realistic dishes, then Lady Iron Chef has some of the ingredients you're looking for.

However, there's a big problem with Lady Iron Chef: it's essentially reheated leftovers, with some random stuff thrown in to disguise the fact that you had this meal a good ten years ago. Forgoing further food metaphors, Lady Iron Chef steals far too much from Stephen Chow's seminal laffer God of Cookery. The films contain different plots, but they possess suspiciously similar structures, plus some of the key visual gags are direct lifts. The final cooking contest is especially derivative of God of Cookery, except it lacks tension or anything resembling narrative drive.

With quality tabled, the biggest deal here is probably the multiple references to the hot-in-Hong-Kong TVB show Beautiful Cooking. This is really just routine stuff, and fails to make an impact thanks to its flaccid romance, laughable attempts at drama, and occasionally amusing comedy, which also proves quite familiar. Yuen Qiu beating up her smarmy first love? Kung Fu Mahjong. The use of aphrodisiac to ignite laughs? Chasing Girls series. Cheung Tat-Ming as the wacky comic sidekick? Take your pick from over twenty films. If this is your third Hong Kong movie, then you could be in for a surprise. Otherwise, you should close your eyes and recall when Wong Jing movies starred better actors, like Chow Yun-Fat, Stephen Chow, or even Nick Cheung.

On the positive side, Lady Iron Chef is better than Wong Jing's most recent comedy efforts, and at least uses its parade of semi-known faces well. A whole slew of Stephen Chow screen vets show up in cameos, as does Wong Jing's dad Wong Tin-Lam and Wong Jing himself, in one of his more amusing turns to date. Wong Jing's comic smarminess is fun, and the numerous beatings he receives from Yuen Qiu may be pure joy to those still angry over Kung Fu Mahjong 3. Charmaine Sheh fans should be happy because the TVB star gets a starring role, though her performance is nothing to write home about. The same goes for Hacken Lee, who's a better singer than an actor any day. The younger set gets a rare screen appearance from Yumiko Cheng, while Cheung Tat-Ming fans can rejoice because the film has Cheung Tat-Ming. Yawn. The above probably doesn't sound like a recommendation, and really, it isn't.

Lady Iron Chef is hard to really talk about because it's ultimately little more than what it appears to be: a sloppy, barely average Hong Kong film that earns whatever cred it has by virtue of being not as bad as some of its ilk. That could be enough for audiences looking to kill time with one of their favorite stars, but even then it feels disappointing because - odd as it seems to say it - Wong Jing's comedies were once a whole lot better. True, I once ripped on stuff like Love is a Many Stupid Thing or Whatever You Want, calling them annoying and unnecessary, and my opinion still stands: those were not really good movies. But were they more fun than Lady Iron Chef? You bet. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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