Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Le Grand Chef (식객)

Cast: Kim Kang Wo (Sung Chan, 성찬), Lee Ha Na (Jin Su, 진수), Im Won Hee (Bong Ju, 봉주), Jeong Eun Pyo (Ho Song, 호성), Kim Sang Ho (Wu Chung Gor, 우중거)

Official Korean site
Festive Film
Thread on soompi

'Le Grand Chef' was one of the top movies in Korea last year, a little bit suprising because there wasn't any big cast but not so unexpected because it was based on a manhwa. The author, Heo Yeong Man had another of his manhwa, 'Tazza: The High Rollers' being filmed into a movie earlier that was also a hit, so there was some expectation for this movie. I feel that there's another reason for the success in Korea but I shall come to that later.


The descendent of a Japanese general wants to return the knife of the last royal chef to Korea. A cooking contest was held, so that the best chef, the true 'master' of the royal culinary could be chosen.

Sung Chan (Kim Kang Woo), lives in the countryside, growing and selling his own vegetables, and doing a roaring good trade as he banters and flirts with the ajumas, who buys his top quality products. He is also a fantastic cook, who could have become the top chef in Korea except for an incident. His rival, Bong Ju (Im Won Hee) the owner of an expensive restaurant/ cooking school is determind to win the contest to prove once and for all, that only he, Bong Ju deserves the 'Best Chef' title.

And of course, you need a female element...which comes in the form of Jin Su (Lee Ha Na), a bubbly, energetic reporter, who is all out to lend her support for Sung Chan.

The movie also has what I consider some of the more interesting supporting characters in most movies. For example, you have Ho Song, Sung Chan's village friend (with his cute children and formidable wife) and Corporal Wu (the ex army chef), who is supposedly Bong Ju's assistant, but is really more interested in searching for the perfect ramyeon. And one shouldn't forget Sung Chan's whimsical, Alzheimer stricken grandfather.

The contests had to go through a few rounds like poultry, fish, beef etc. One of the round even had the contestants seraching for the best charcoal. Of course, all these rounds are just to show how good and how much hardship Sung Chan has to go through to win and what a mean, despicable person Bong Ju is.

And so within the 2 hours so so, we are treated to some rather fantastic cooking, intersped with very human aspects like tears and laughter, that makes food such a personal experience, which can truely warm the hearts and sould and stomach, if done with passion.

I must admit that the first few minutes of the movie totally shocked me...maybe because I hadn't expect the movie to open this way. I'm not sure if the movie goers were just as shocked but then, I cook only vegetables at home as hubby is a vegetarian, so I've absolutely no experience in slaughtering live animals...and I don't think I really want to either.

But please don't be mistaken, it wasn't gross or anything, in fact it was expertly done.

And the food filmed in the movie for the contest was absolutely exquisite. It really reminded me of the royal food that I had tasted during my 2004 trip. And those of you who have 'Dae Jang Geum', would kow what I'm talking about.

But you know what, despite knowing that these food takes great skills to prepare and probably taste heavenly....it doesn't make me hungry. What made me hungry?

Sung Chan preparing lunch for Jin Su for the first time, Corporal Wu having the steaming hot ramyeon, Sung Chan and Jin Su having BBQ pork in Sung Chan's friend's shop..... In other words, the food of everydaylife and normal citizens. In some way, I'm quite correct in my choice...as the final twist to the cooking contest is linked to an everyday, normal soup that is known to all Koreans.

There were 2 moments in the movie that brought a little tear to my eyes...one was the story of the charcoal maker and the other...Sung Chan's cow. I think I can quite safely say almost everyone in the audience will feel something at that final scene of the cow...walking sadly, all alone into slaughterhouse. Btw, Kim Kang Woo said that he needed almost a month to make friends with Seung Sun, the cow (yes, the cow does have a name!). And the poor thing apparently lost about 30kg on the day of filming because it really thought it was going to end up on the dining table.

The supporting characters were interesting as well and I especially like Corporal Wu in his fervent search for that perfect ramyeon that he tasted once in his life. I blogged about ramyeon previously here and watching the ramyeon scene, I came to the same conclusion...I've got to get myself one of those metal small pot. And just what is the perfect ramyeon? Hehe! Go watch the movie. I had ramyeon after the movie...but it doesn't seemed to taste as good as it looked in the movie leh.

As for the main leads, they did a good job..actually, I can really see traces of manhwa in them...with Sung Chan being down-to-earth and good looking and Bong Ju having this slicked-back hair and a constant sneer on his face. The only thing is...Jin Su's role could have been meatier but I guess the writer wasn't too concerned about the female participation in the storyline.

Oh...I did mention earlier that there was probably another reason why it did well in Korea- the nationalistic touch. You have a Japanese returning the all symbolic knife to atone for his ancestors' sins (which is linked to the last emperor of Chosun), the royal cooking and then the final competition which was held on National Day... It's as nationalistic as it gets without being too serious.

But....it was an enjoyable movie...with one unexpected twist to the story, some humour and a nice happy ending....^^ *Warning: this movie could either make you hungry or stay off fish and beef for awhile....hehehe!

Im Won Hee, has appeared in many movies ...the most notable being in the 2005 movie, 'Crying Fist'. He was last seen in Kang Dong Wan's movie, 'M'.

Lee Ha Na was last seen in the strange drama, 'Merri, Daegu, Defence and Attack Battle' with Ji Hyun Wu...and believe me...it was a strange drama.

Kim Kang Woo could very well be the next acclaimed actor as he has just won the best actor for his role in the movie, 'The Railroad' in the 25th Torino Film Festival in Italy last December. The storyline certainly sounds interesting and I think I'm going to get it. His latest movie is 'Rainbow Eyes', which started screening in Korea on 27th December. Not sure how it is doing but must say he looks pretty good, especially on that motobike. hehehe!

Btw, from all accounts that I've gathered so far, Kim Kang Woo is a very nice, obliging, polite guy. My teacher (who has been the translator for many Korean artistes including Shinhwa, Bae Yong Joon and Rain), who was his translator, was full of praise for him. And he looks really good too...in fact much better in real life than in reel life. I believed he has gained a few fans in Singapore after this trip..hehe!

Credit: Singapore KTO

One last note...interestingly, there will be a drama version coming on air soon. It will star Kim Rae Won and Nam Sang Mi.

Jos has also done a review on her blog for this movie


amanda said...

Hi, Tiff.
I'm going back home pretty soon.
So I just wanna meet you before I leave.
I throw a small house farewell party I really want you to come.
The place is 62 Havelock Road RivePlace B2 #04-13.
and the time is friday 25th from 7 pm. I invited few my friends mostly European so I want you to come. with ur husband. :)
ps. my phone 9674 6075 just in case

ChristopherZZ said...

Hi Tiffany,

I must say I loved "Le Grand Chef." It reminded me so much of Korea, I lived there for two years. the Korean people are very proud of the food and this movie does that cuisine justice.