Kitchen (1997)

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 10/19/2005
Summary: "The stuff that dreams are made of..."

KITCHEN (1997)

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono

Bernardo Bertolucci once said: "Movies are made with the same material dreams are made of". As evidence, one might look no further than Yim Ho's unexpectedly beguiling KITCHEN, the tale of a womanising hairstylist (Jordan Chan) and his transsexual 'mother' (Law Kar-ying) whose lives are changed forever by the arrival of a beautiful orphaned houseguest (Yasuko Tomita). Distinguished by Poon Hang-sang's magnificent, sensuous camerawork, Yim's screenplay (co-written with Banana Yoshimoto, author of the cult novel on which this film was based) explores the ways in which Chan and Tomita are drawn together and then divided by circumstances beyond their control; the film has the courage to end quietly, leaving several tantalizing threads untied, and passions unconsummated.

Yim explored similar emotional territory several years earlier in the rural drama THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD (1994), but here, tragedy is tempered by the warmth of the characterisations. Chan and Law are effortlessly dignified, but Tomita carries the film with demure grace. An early scene, in which she goes missing and is found on a rooftop overlooking Hong Kong at night, expressing her silent, wordless grief over a recent bereavement by reaching for the moon, is quite genuinely heartbreaking. Elsewhere, the film's long middle section, detailing events surrounding another unexpected departure, is a little too leisurely and could have been trimmed without significant loss, but the bookends are magnificent and the images are never less than ravishing. You'll be humming the wistful, nursery-rhyme theme music for days afterward.

Despite its languid pacing, the original 124-minute version is the preferred cut, rather than the 112-minute 'international' print which tampers with the narrative flow. Thankfully, the longer version seems to have prevailed in most major markets, especially on home video.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/08/2000

'm a sucker for a deeply romantic story. Not the sort of shallow, hollow excuse for romanticism found in a romance novel,
but the kind of deep, looking for a soulmate romanticism in movies like The Princess Bride. All this is to say that Kitchen is
such a film, and therefore I found it deeply moving, despite its flaws.

Louis is a hairdresser who lives with his mother, Emma (played by male actor Law Kar-Ying). When one of his clients dies,
her granddaughter Aggie moves in with them. When she first moves in, she doesn't speak, overwhelmed with grief.
Eventually, she comes out of her shell and becomes a part of their family. At the same time, a romance begins to develop
between her and Louis. She is hesitant to get involved, because she perceives him as somewhat of a playboy, and she has
suffered enough already.

Kitchen is a magical film. The script holds a deeply romantic view of life, and this is reflected in other aspects of the film as
well. The set design is quite beautiful, particularly the house in which Louis, Aggie, and Emma live. Often different scenes
seem to have a color which defines it, dominating the visual field. The direction is fairly simple, though Yim Ho uses some
lovely directorial and editorial tricks in a wonderful dream sequence.

Jordan Chan is, unsurprisingly, excellent. While he is often called upon to be little more than a weird funny guy, in Kitchen
he brings a lot of depth beneath the surface weirdness. Law Kar-Ying is surprisingly un-campy as a Emma. I generally think
of him as the strange older guy in a Stephen Chow comedy, but he is truly convincing as Louis' mother, and the fact that he
is a man is not distracting. I'm not sure how I feel about Yasuko Tomita's performance. She seems to be exaggerating her
expressions, often looking like a child. On the other hand, this does make for an interesting character. It is difficuly to tell if
she was doing this intentionally or not. I suspect that this will grow on me in repeated veiwings. Sadly, Karen Mok has only
a small role in the film (I'm still waiting for the day when she gets a role sizeable enough for her talent).

Kitchen sometimes seems to be trying a bit too hard to be quirky, though it avoids going overboard and becoming a
collection of strange mannerisms and character traits. One of my favorite quirks is Aggie's fixation on smells and her
enjoyment of the kitchen (thus the title). I would have liked to see this more developed, as there is not hint of why she feels
this way, but it was interesting without feeling pointless. There are also several repeated symbols used throughout the film,
including knives and the moon. Fortunately, Yim Ho goes to the trouble to bring some meaning to these symbols, rather
than throwing them in merely for sake of being arty.

I can't finish the review without mentioning the music. There is only one piece of music in the entire film, repeated with
numerous variations. Fortunately, it is a good piece of music and fits the mood of the film perfectly.

I am a sucker for this type of film. Sure, it is sentimental and sappy, but it well done sentiment and sap. If you like this sort
of thing, then Kitchen is a fine example of how these things can be done well.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Adapted from the hugely popular novel by Japanese writer, BananaYoshimoto, the location has been moved to Hong Kong. Orphaned at an early age, Aggie is brought up by her grandmother. When she dies of old age, she retreats into a world of her own, sleeping on her grandmother's kitchen floor and not uttering a word. Louie and his club hostess mother Yim Wa take her in and she takes up residence in the kitchen. Under their care Aggie gradually returns to normal and understands life from a different view due the death of a relation. The trio form an unconventional but warm relationship, but the sudden loss of Yim Wa shatters Louie's world and makes Aggie experience the same kind of pain Aggie feels. The couple form a fragile relationship based upon this understanding.

[Reviewed by Next Magazine]