Le Grand Chef – NYC

Leaving Cinema Village after watching Le Grand Chef (식객), currently in the Korean Film Festival, my only thought was ‘Damn, Korean people are so dramatic.’ I’ve always thought that. My boyfriend thinks it’s because our food is so spicy, we have so much fire inside. My friend told me once how he saw two grown Korean women brawling on the streets one night, intent to be the last one standing, just after sharing a drink together. Korean people are also known to walk in the rain crying after fighting with their loved ones. That’s their M.O. They are a people of extremes, there is no middle ground. Me, I’ve had my own share of crazy nights no one on the Internet needs to know about. So it’s no surprise many Korean films are steeped in intense emotions. Le Grand Chef, directed by Jeon Yoon-Soo is no exception.

The film is about Sung-Chan, a former culinary student who has retreated into life in the country selling produce, after nearly killing the critics at his cooking finals with ill-prepared blowfish. At the challenge of his former classmate and nemesis, Bong-Ju, Sung-Chan decides to enter the ultimate cooking competition. The winner would earn the title of heir to the last Royal Chef of Korea, and would inherit his legendary knife. This knife is significant because the last Royal Chef of the Chosun Dynasty used it to cut off his hand so he wouldn’t have to cook for the Japanese after they overthrew his king. Yes, this is pretty heady stuff, and it gets even more intense as the movie progresses.

However, because the movie is based on a Korean comic book, the melodrama is very effective and the movie works. There are several gratuitous shots that would be overkill in any other movie, but in Le Grand Chef, it seems normal. For example, when in flashback the last Royal Chef brings the knife down on his hand to sever it, I assumed the camera would cut away at the last moment. Of course in this movie, we are not spared the gore.

There are also several gorgeous shots in the film. The montage of the food porn during the cooking competition makes you lick your lips. It’s also interesting because the plating is very different from that in the West. Everything is extremely stylized, and at one point we see Sung-Chan arranging ingredients in a soup with tweezers. Outdoor wide shots are also incredibly beautiful. Many of them seemed unnecessary, but I still enjoyed looking at the visual candy. The wide overhead shot of Sung-Chan and his friends traveling up along a long windy road is amazing. I’m a sucker for long windy roads in films.

The movie is not entirely serious. There are a lot of cute chuckle-inducing moments in the film, especially those that involve the supporting characters. There’s a hilarious subplot having to do with Bong-Ju’s sous-chef, Corporal Wu. Corporal Wu is on a quest to discover the secret of making great ramyun. Ho-Seong, Sung-Chan’s sous-chef, had prepared Corporal Wu ramyun once when they were both serving in the army, and since then, he has been trying to reclaim that delicious moment in time.

The ramen above is what I ate Friday while waiting for the Time Warner cable guy. I was planning to go out to eat after he left, but after waiting a few hours to no avail, I decided I had to eat and I whipped up some ramyun. My brand of choice is SuhTah Ramyun (수타면), it’s spicy and the noodles are chewy. I always add an egg and some onion when I make ramyun, but this time I also threw in some choy sum and corn. It was delicious, not so much because of how I prepared it, but more so because of the secret that Corporal Wu learns at the end of the film. Sorry to be a tease, but you’ll have to watch Le Grand Chef to find out. You’ll seriously laugh, cry, and walk away with the secret to great ramyun.

Le Grand Chef
Director: Jeon Yoon-Soo
Writers: Jeon Yoon-Soo, Shin Dong-Ik
Starring: Kim Gang-Woo, Im Won-Hee, Lee Ha-Na
Based on a Comic Book by Heo Yeong-Man
Release Date: 1 November 2007 (South Korea)
Genre: Comedy | Drama

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