Film review: This Is Not What I Expected – Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Dongyu in romantic comedy with a culinary focus
It takes something special to turn an intended screwball romance featuring perennial heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro into food porn, but that’s what debutant director Derek Hui has achieved
A quirky yet predictable film made special by its reverence for inspired cooking, the directorial debut of Hong Kong editor Derek Hui Wang-yu – produced by frequent collaborator Peter Chan Ho-sun – is more food porn than romantic comedy. That’s quite a feat given that it stars two of Chinese-language cinema’s hottest properties – perennial heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhou Dongyu, whose meteoric rise continues after a Golden Horse-winning turn in Soul Mate .
Kaneshiro plays Lu Jin, the multibillionaire heir of a business empire specialising in hotel acquisitions. A heartless loner who cares about nothing but the very best food, he is nevertheless caught off guard by the gourmet sensibility of Gu Shengnan (Zhou), a scrappy little chef working in a Shanghai hotel he’s looking to buy. In true screwball fashion, the two have several contrived and farcical encounters outside the hotel before they even realise who the other person is – and then romance blossoms, inevitably and improbably.
From its slapstick beginning to an awkward third act in which Lu forcefully moves himself into Gu’s apartment just to keep on enjoying her cooking, This Is Not What I Expected does not show either of its stars at their best. Kaneshiro partly channels his cartoonish character from See You Tomorrow and Zhou gives a performance that, by her standards, lacks nuance.
The supporting roles – including Tony Yang You-ning as Gu’s ex-boyfriend and supervisor, and Lin Chi-ling as Lu’s personal chef – are regrettably undercooked.
What will probably stick with audiences is Hui’s gleeful nonchalance in dealing with the largely clichéd material. There is apparently little reason for Lu and Gu to become an item except for their mutual love of good food, yet the film makes their relationship seem plausible, mostly through its intense culinary focus. Even a throwaway sequence in which Kaneshiro’s character demonstrates the perfect routine for preparing instant noodles would make a sublime short film by itself.
This Is Not What I Expected opens on May 4
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