DEADLY DELICIOUS (2008) review

deadly-delicious-2008-1

Chen Jiaoqiao (Francis Ng) is a wealthy businessman whose relationship with air hostess Coco (Jiang Yiyan) is blighted only by the fact that he’s a gourmet and she’s a terrible cook. He’s also prone to mood swings and sometimes disappears for long stretches of time, a fact Coco attributes to her dubious cooking skills. But then she meets and befriends TV gourmet chef Gu Xiaofan (Yu Nan), who offers to teach her how to win back her boyfriend through his stomach. The collaboration between the two women is a success, as Jiaqiao grows fonder of his girlfriend now that she can meet his gourmet expectations. However, he soon starts losing hair and getting seizures, growing weaker by the day; doctors conclude to a rare form of poisoning, brought about by the combination of different kinds of edible ingredients. But then where does he get the food that combines in a deadly way with Coco’s cooking? It becomes obvious that Xiaofan is not who she claims to be and has a hidden, possibly vengeful agenda.

From its terrific main titles sequence highlighting all the brutality that goes into cooking a delicious meal (cue fishes being gutted, chickens being beheaded, etc…), to roughly the one-hour mark, when interesting revelations are dished out (pun intended), Zhao Tianyu’s Deadly Delicious is a delectable little psychological thriller, though considering its simmering pace and genre shift, that may be stretching the definition of the word ‘thriller’ a bit. The directing is assured, offsetting its images of food porn and pretty people in smooth, well-decorated places, with unnerving visions like a fish gasping on the asphalt next to the body of the person who bought it, having just been hit by a car. The film’s very short patch as a feel-good cooking film is ended with the striking yet measured body horror of Jiaoqiao losing his hair and eyebrows and gradually becoming a shell of a man; and when the truth is revealed, it puts a darkly ironic, as well as mundanely tragic, spin on the past hour of film. It is the kind of clever twist that stuns without being too surprising or flashy, and that yields astute metaphors without being too artificial. The cast is part of the success: Francis Ng is perfect as a character that is as prosaically despicable as he is weirdly sympathetic, while two of China’s classiest actresses, Yu Nan and Jiang Yiyan, provide a compelling feminine Yin and Yang. But the problem is that past that one-hour mark and its perception-altering revelations, the film basically has nothing left to do but noodle around ambiguously, eventually falling into the vague pretentiousness it had cleverly avoided until then.

Long Story Short : Two thirds of an excellent exercise in psychological and culinary horror, Deadly Delicious is carried by an outstanding trio of actors, but unfortunately becomes aimless and pretentious in its final stretch. ***

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