After three seasons of his successful cooking show “Chef Nic”, Nicholas Tse takes his passion for culinary arts to the big screen with Raymond Yip’s Cook up a Storm, in which he plays Sky Ko, an Cantonese street cook whose well-loved restaurant in a picturesque alley of Hong Kong is threatened by property developers. Now, Michelin-starred chef Paul Ahn (Jung Yong Hwa) is opening a high-end restaurant right opposite Sky’s modest but welcoming diner. The two start butting heads, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other in a TV culinary competition. Whoever wins will get to go head to head with the “God of Cookery” Mountain Ko (Anthony Wong), who’s none other than Sky’s selfish and driven father, having left him at a young age in the hands of his friend Seven (Ge You), a wise and kind chef. Sky loses to Paul, who in turn is betrayed by his girlfriend and sous-chef Mayo (Michelle Bai), and thus the two initially hostile chefs but join forces to claim the title of “God of Cookery”.
Cook up a Storm hits many of the same narrative beats as Gina Kim’s recent foodie drama Final Recipe – a son reunited with his estranged father during an international cooking competition that he entered to save his restaurant – with the same message that cooking with heart is more important than cooking elaborately. But Raymond Yip’s film is more assured and effective in its crowd-pleasing aim, and even more spectacular in its displays of food porn. In fact, cooking has rarely been displayed on film with such over-the-top glamour and flash, with ample but mostly pleasing CGI backing, of course. In between the foodie set pieces, there’s an amiable but unremarkable soapy feel to the proceedings, with romantic back-stabbing, filial estrangement, friendly support and corporate mischief combined in a mixture that an attractive cast keeps from getting too lumpy.
Nicholas Tse and K-pop star Jung Yong Hwa (in his big screen debut), seem to be constantly trying to out-handsome each other, but remain consistently likable, with even a dash of understated chemistry when teamed-up. Tiffany Tang and Michelle Bai are mostly sidelined as a clumsy-cute friend (Charlene Choi was presumably unavailable) and a double-dealing ice queen, respectively. Ge You always seems like he’s just waking up from an afternoon nap, but Anthony Wong (who despite his central role is absent from all marketing) easily owns every scene he’s in as a cynical, seemingly heartless father: his effortless charisma always bounces perfectly off Nic Tse’s intensity, and they make the finale more affecting than it had any right to be given how contrived it is. Only the Wong can make crying while eating noodles an effective emotional climax.
Long Story Short: A flashy and contrived foodie comedy, Cook up a Storm nevertheless entertains solidly and amiably, thanks to a good cast, an unpretentious disposition and some spectacular cooking scenes. ***