Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel: Chinese Opera in the Time of Cholera
Imperial Japanese Army’s notorious Unit 731 has been the subject of several
highly controversial docudramas that were sharply criticized for their exploitative
use of horrific archival footage. This is not one of them. Instead, two members
of the biological warfare research center will find themselves on the business
end of an unorthodox interrogation in Hu Gaun’s comedic-tragic action mash-up The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.
particularly nasty strain of Cholera is raging through China, courtesy of Unit
731. However, their leading biochemist Col. Ogasawara Goro and his aide de camp
have been waylaid by a highwayman, who has more or less commandeered an inn to
serve as his temporary hideout. However, the chef and his mute wife are not
thrilled to have them there, but their Chinese opera singer sort of sides with
the Scoundrel (and against his employers), for patriotic reasons. With varying
degrees of reluctance, they proceed to grill the officer in hopes of exploiting
his valuable formula.
you just have to get through the first twenty minutes of buffoonery before Guan
tips his hand. It turns out the four bickering captors are much smarter,
disciplined, and unified than they would have the Japanese believe. In fact, we
are witnessing an elaborate ruse inspired by Chinese opera, designed to lull Ogasawara
into accidentally revealing the formula. The set-up works like a charm, but
time is not on their side, especially when the Japanese military finally comes
you want to stick with this film, because it reinvents itself several times. In
a way, it rather shows up the kind of rubber-faced slapstick of co-star Huang
Bo’s Lost in Thailand. There are
indeed a number of twisty plot reversals and some ripping good action spectacle
in the third act. In fact, it wins over viewer affections in surprising (but
and Zhang Hanyu are rather amazing dialing it up and then cranking it down as
the Scoundrel and the Actor, respectively. Liu Ye cannot quite turn on a dime
as quickly as his two comrades, but he shows off the strongest action chops as
the Chef. Yet, it is Liang Jing who probably undertakes the greatest
upstairs-downstairs transformation as the goonish wife. One should also keep
their eyes on Taiwan-based Japanese actress-model Chie Tanaka, for dramatic
reasons, because she nicely turns her own subtle surprises, as well.
Somehow, the misleadingly Greenaway-esque titled
Chef manages to be both a traditional
homage and an ironic riff on the King Hu-inspired inn period drama. Guan throws
just about everything into the mix, except maybe space aliens and cynicism.
Highly recommended (but seriously, don’t bail on it early), The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel is
now available on DVD, BluRay, and digital platforms from Well Go USA.
Labels: DVD, Unit 731