Le Grand Chef


Reviewed by: sukting

February 21, 2010

Rating: three

How long
2 hours

Foreword
This movie is based on a manga. It is on 2 chefs competing in a
cooking contest. Who emerges as the winner for the cooking knife which
has an important history? Will you be tempted by the delicious food
presented on screen?

Story

A young chef Sung Chan (Kim Kang Woo) is competing against his evil
senior Bong Joo (Yim Won Hee). Both are apprentices in the same
renowned restaurant. Both prepare a blowfish dish. Bong Joo makes it
into the form of a fish while Sung Chan into a phoenix. Both look so
real-life that the judges are reluctant to eat them. Suddenly, the
judges suffer from food poisoning after eating Sung Chan’s dish. Sung
Chan doesn’t know how this happens as he has removed the poison
earlier.

As a result, he is thrown out of the restaurant. Five years later, he
manages a rural restaurant. He is persuaded to enter a national
contest by reporter Jin Soo (Lee Ha Na). Unknown to both, the
restaurant is owned by Jin Soo’s mother and she has not visited it at
all as she is too busy. There he meets Bong Joo again. Bong Joo is now
the head of the school to become well-known and powerful.

This time round, both compete to be the real heir to the country’s
Royal Chef. The winner will get a knife that belongs to the last
Korean royal chef who cut his arm to show his loyalty to the king
after Japanese invaded Korea. A Japanese general’s grandson has
brought it back to Korea, wanting to find a rightful owner to it.
Both their grandfathers are students of the last royal chef.

The knife doesn’t cost much but the title worths millions. It will
also bring honour and glory to the family and business. Thus, Bong Joo
is despicable to do whatever it takes to get it. He even sneers at
Sung Chan that he should return to work for him. That inspires Sung
Chan to instil his confidence to work harder. Soon, they get into the
second round.

The second theme is charcoal. Sung Chan has managed to find the best
charcoal from a charcoal maker who is going to be hung but Bong Joo
seizes it to become his own. His friends beat Bong Joo up but he still
claims his rights shamelessly. Sung Chan accepts his sad fate, going
into the next round by making do with a lower grade charcoal. His
friends are indignant over it and promise to help him out in the other
rounds.

Bong Joo bribes one judge to get Sung Chan to prepare the blowfish
dish again as the theme. Sung Chan is affected initially as he is
reminded of his past. His friends are worried and suggests to him to
change the title. He bravely takes up the challenge.

He isn’t aware that he is supposedly to win the contest 5 years ago.
Bong Joo is bitter that even his father thinks more highly of Sung
Chan than him. Although his father tells him to try his best to beat
him, he doesn’t believe in that. Lacking confidence, he puts back the
poison into Sung Chan’s dish to frame him.

Bong Joo’s junior chef gets to meet Sung Chan’s friend. He was his
subordinate in the army and holds him in high regard. He wonders why
the ramen he tastes in the army isn’t as delicious as now. He keeps
pestering Sung Chan’s friend for the answer. He even asks him to hit
him with a stick.

Even after the beating lecture, he finds no difference. Sung Chan’s
friend has no answer to it – maybe they should try different ramen? At
last, he knows the solution. His subordinate was hungry then so
whatever was given to him. Thus, he sends a packet to him to give him
the answer.

Sung Chan has the dish ready but the judges do not want to taste it as
they still remember what happened. One even vows that he will not
taste again as the dish design as a phoenix is the same. Bong Joo has
hoped that Sung Chan will be eliminated but the organiser claims that
this is against the rule as no one has eaten it as yet. Jin Soo feels
sorry for him. She bravely takes the pieces and pretends to be
poisoned.

This gives Sung Chan a shock but the smile returns to his face when
she gives him a mischievous wink. The judges then follow suit
unwillingly but praise him for doing well after tasting it. He is
thrown into the limelight as a fierce competitor so Bong Joo’s plan
backfires.

The third round is to get the best beef. Sung Chan looks around for
the best cow with little success. He has the best cow at home but he
is reluctant to kill it as he has brought it up since young. But he
has no choice but to finish its life but vows that it will not
sacrifice in vain. The cow has given it one last look with tears in
its eyes before it is slaughtered.

Sung Chan also has tears in his eyes when facing the carcass. Bong Joo
gets the best cow and has low regard for its life to make it struggle
when his workers try to pull it out of the truck to kill it. Both men
start to slice the pieces out to show the judges. Bong Joo smiles
viciously as he is way ahead of Sung Chan. The judges declare Bong Joo
as the winner and he starts cheering for himself.

Suddenly, his joy turns into disbelief when the judges suddenly shout
stop. Bong Joo’s supposedly top quality meat was declared as void as
the poor animal suffered haemorrhage due to stress. Sung Chan’s marks
come in the same points as him. Bong Joo gets tense now when the last
topic is to cook the dish that makes the king cry. What can be it? He
doesn’t get the recipe at all. He throws all the things at home in
rage. Suddenly, a scroll drops from behind a curtain and he smiles
after reading it.

When it comes to the day of the competition, Bong Joo refuses to
compete with Sung Chan. He says that Sung Chan’s grandfather is the
culprit who murders the royal chef. Sung Chan is taken aback. Jin Soo
admits in silence as she has confirmed the truth from the royal chef’s
servant. The contest is postponed.

Sung Chan’s grandfather is getting senile and he prepares a last dish
for Sung Chan before his death. Sung Chan has a bad phenomenon as the
old man often picks on his cooking and shouts that he never gets what
he wants although Sung Chan has tried to get the best for him
everytime.

So why is he suddenly cooking now – something that he has not done for
years? He reveals the truth of the royal chef’s death. The Japanese
general has wanted to taste the dish that makes the king cry but the
royal chef is unwilling to prepare for him. He even chops his hand
away and ends his life. Sung Chan’s grandfather blames himself for
being unable to stop the tragedy so he leaves the school.

He doesn’t mind taking the blame of being reprimanded for killing his
teacher. Jin Soo learns the real truth and is surprised that Sung Chan
still keeps mum about it. So am I – are both grandfather and grandson
too used to take the blame that they hardly want to explain to clear
the air?

Seeing Sung Chan so tired preparing for his grandfather’s funeral, his
friends suggest catering for the guests. Sung Chan is saddened but he
still wants to cook for his grandfather as his final way of saying
goodbye. Recalling his grandfather’s recipe, he makes a simple dish,
presuming that it is the dish for the king. Here comes the day of the
contest. The two prepare the so-called dish. The judges compliment
Bong Joo for doing well and sneer at Sung Chan’s dish that can be
found anywhere.

The Japanese is one of the judges for the final round and tastes the
dish. He declares that Sung Chan’s dish is the genuine one. Why did
the king cry after tasting it? Not because it has lots of ingredients
but because only the basic items are used to remind the king of the
hardship that he is facing after the Japanese invasion. The king is
touched that the royal chef knows him so well that he cries when
tasting it.

Although Sung Chan’s dish is tasty, he can tell that it is a mixture
of Japanese and Korean culture. That should not be the way as a Korean
dish should be unique. He is very sure that Bong Joo has copied it
from somewhere. The person who writes the scroll must not have wanted
this to come to light so he hides it. Bong Joo yells to no avail and
he loses the competition. His followers leave him and he has to carry
his shop name in front of the shop in shame.

His shop has closed for good. Sung Chan gets the knife but continues
to work in the small restaurant. He is pleasantly surprised to know
that Jin Soo is related to his boss when she stops by. Both have a
nice chat and romance starts between them soon.

Interesting facts

Kim Kang Woo came to Singapore in 2007 to promote the movie. Unlike
some stars who were unapproachable, he was chatty and friendly. Many
marveled that he resembled Kwon Sang Woo – their names were also
similar. He admitted that he did look like him and it was an honour.
But he was not concerned about the comments as their acting paths were
different.

He had a steady girlfriend and she had to accommodate to him as his
working hours were irregular. He also had mood swings at times during
to tedious work preparation but she understood him well. He was 29
years old then when he came and is 180 cm tall, graduating from Chung
Ang University acting academy.

He often got good guy roles in movies but he confessed that he could
be greedy and a bit selfish in real life. This movie’s biggest
challenge was not the cooking process as all along, he loved cooking.
The difference would be learning traditional Korean cooking as he was
too used to modern cooking. He learned from his mother and would cook
for his family whenever he was free.

How did people say after tasting his dishes? They loved his cooking.
But his girlfriend seldom appreciated his efforts and she did not know
how to cook. So he had little interest to cook for her after that. He
was not picky on food and loved seafood most. Thus, when reporters
brought him to a restaurant, he finished every dish on the table.

He loved Chinese food most and like the restaurant’s setting. The food
was so delicious that he even asked the chef how he prepared them.
Reporters could never forget the contented expression on his face
after tasting it. Many said Kang Woo’s charm came when he was totally
engrossed in the cooking scenes.

The toughest part was acting with a cow. It was hard to act with it
for the scene when it ended at a rooftop after a flood. It hardly
responded to him and he joked that he worried that he would become
autistic after facing it for too long. But soon, he really treated it
like a sister. He not only fed it with grass but also combed its hair
like an elder brother.

Many asked how he preserved such good complexion. Even female
reporters felt inferior after seeing him. He drank lots of water daily
and also quitted smoking for a long time. he also ate lots of fruits
and applied sunblock when going for outdoor exercises. He loved
soccer, jogging and rock climbing.

I won the movie tickets and Kang Woo’s movie autographed poster
through a contest. Kang Woo was really a nice guy. Knowing that most
would not have known Korean characters, he autographed his name in
Korean and also Chinese with a golden marker.

A drama version of the manga was produced in 2008. The leads were Kim
Rae Won, Nam Sang Mi and Kim So Yeon. It was also as well received as
this movie.

Conclusion

It is a modern ‘Jewel in the palace’ except that it is a competition
between two men instead of two women. The story is simple and easy to
follow the ‘All About Eve’ pattern. The good guy is too nice. He is an
experienced chef and works hard even though someone frames him. He is
also filial to his grandfather and loyal to friends. This character is
simply too forgiving. The villain is also one-dimensional so there is
hardly excitement.

The process of looking for the charcoal is too melodramatic. The
charcoal maker has killed his stepfather after ill-treating his
mother. He then refuses to meet his mother after he is sentenced to
death. Feeling sorry for both, Sung Chan cooks his mother’s signature
dishes as his last meal. The charcoal maker is grateful so he tells
Sung Chan where to get the charcoal before he is hung and his mother
brings his ashes home.

This part simply takes too long of a whole 15 minutes till my patience
is completely worn off. The director is simply too carried away. He
can just tell us which tree to get the charcoal straight away. Has he
forgotten that he is shooting a food competition and not a soap drama?

The main star is Kang Woo. He is able to make his role come prominent
with adequate sensitivity, humour and tears. We see how he presents
Sung Chan in layers. All will follow his cooking journey excitedly
even though we know the victory result beforehand.

The food is brought to life as the competition proceeds to different
stages so we are well treated to a big feast. They simply make my
mouth water. The competition is also tense as each topic is different.
Seeing both chefs wearing traditional Korean chef outfits and modern
chef uniforms is like going through a century of an eating journey. It
is warm hearted and shows rich Korean eating culture that most people
from other countries or races will enjoy.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : *** (Scale of 5)

On story : *** (Scale of 5)



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