HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Chef, The Actor, the Scoundrel
HTS Overall Score:83
And the Asian releases just roll out from Well Go USA. Well Go USA is a personal favorite studio of mine due to the fact that they are dedicated to bringing Asian films to the U.S. that normally would not make it here, and with excellent prices to boot. It used to be that the now defunct “Dragon Dynasty” and a small handful of epics would make it into the U.S., but thanks to Well Go USA we see quite a bit more. Now this comes with some downsides, such as a lot more drek also makes it into the market that wouldn’t have, but the offset of seeing this unheard of gems outside of importing is worth the risk, in my opinion. “The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel” is one of those that I would have completely glossed over had it not been for this label. At first glance “The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel” looks to be mildly interesting and after watching 15 minutes of the movie I wanted to give up. Thankfully, the film has a lot more going on under the surface which turned a 2/5 film into a full 4/5 film by the end of the hour and 48 minutes.
“The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel” tells the tale of 4 heroes of Bejing who combated the Cholera epidemic that was happening in WWII ridden China. Japan had unleashed an outbreak of the diseases as a biological weapon and the people on both sides were suffering. Here we have a tale of 3 men and 1 woman who put their lives (and dignity) on the line to capture a cure for the populace. A Scoundrel “bandit” (Bo Huang), hijacks a medical courier on the way to the Japanese front with a special case. Seemingly by “accident” he lands inside of a nearby restaurant owned by a Japanese Chef (Ye Liu) and his crazy mute wife (Jing Liang). There the Scoundrel, the Chef, the wife and a down and out Actor (Hanyu Zhang) scrabble over the contents of the parcel, fighting over how much money it could bring them on the black market. With the Japanese scientist and his bodyguard kept under wraps the lunacy reaches epic proportions are the 4 squabbling inbreeds have about the combined intelligence of a rat.
It was at this point in the story that I was about to give up. I like humor, but the over the top, almost Charlie Chaplain meets Asian humor just wasn’t working. It got so slapstick that I wondered just HOW another hour and 20 minutes was possible with this tone and pacing. Then we see the real story peeking through. It seems that our 4 supposedly unrelated characters are in actuality a tight knit group of Chinese resistance fighters. The scoundrel is in fact a microbiologist, the chef a decorated soldier, the “wife” a communications officer and the Actor is the their actual commander. They had known about the cure for Cholera being smuggled by the Japanese to their own people and hijacked the carriage. The problem was that they knew they’d never have enough time for a proper interrogation so they concocted an elaborate full on Broadway show for their prisoners. If they were seen as lunatics and mindless men it was easier for the Japanese to let their guard down and let the “actors” pull information from them without arousing suspicion.
As a comedy standpoint this film would have been a complete failure in my mind, but mixing in the serious drama points and using the comedy as more of a point to laugh at the Japanese who are being played, rather than the jokes themselves turned the film into an entirely different experience. Raised from a simple 2/5 comedy we have a fun little game of cat and mouse where the Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel all squabble over minor things, inflicting psychological torture on their captives in an effort to get them to slip up and spill the beans, so to speak. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s zany, it’s action oriented and the end fight scene was a blast to watch them go all Rambo style up against an entire battalion of Japanese soldiers. The wit and charm comes less from the comedy, but from watching them EMPLOY comedy in such devious ways, masking a much more serious plot line.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=21690[/img]Well Go USA certainly delights with a fantastic 2.39:1 AVC encode. The bizarre hilarity is captured on film with a brightly saturated image that literally sparkles with garish colors and tones. The overall grading carries that burnt yellow/orange that Asian cinematographers seem to be infatuated with nowadays, giving it a rustic “old west” meets “bright Asian circus” in terms of colors. With all those colors there is still is quite a bit of incredible detail and textures to be seen. The costumes are always the center point of any Asian period piece and here is no different. The costumes and set pieces are fantastic and stand out above all else, with brocades and satins for the actor and Japanese wife, with old fashioned and grungy clothes for our resident scoundrel. Skin tones are a bit yellow due to the color grading, but that’s more stylistically done than anything. Blacks are good, but do show some washed out bits here and there. Overall it’s an excellent picture that’s only marred by a teensy bit of softness in a few scenes along with the occasional washed out black level.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=21698[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is aggressive and full of life to match the frenetic tone of the movie. I was pushed back in my seat with the opening heist scenes as the LFE gets punishing really fast. The audio doesn’t let up as it’s filled with that same frenetic energy throughout the film. There are copious scenes to show off the track’s prowess as the lunatics bounce around a cholera cure like it’s a hacky sack and the blades and guns reverberate throughout the restaurant halls with stunning clarity. Surrounds are at full mast as the action sounds as if it’s happening all around you. Auditory detail is spot on as you hear footsteps crunching on broken shards, the “whop” as pike staff quivers in the walls in front of the scoundrel as well as the whisper quiet hiss of a ladies dress rasping against itself. As I mentioned at the beginning the LFE is simply incredible as it not only adds some nice low end but likes to pummel you with lots of midbass with every footstep, gunshot and physical impact that happens. A definite audio treat.
• Blooper Reel
• The Making Of
Filmed with some very unique styles and mixing some wildly different genres together seems like a recipe for disaster, but for some reason “The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel” works well as that unique hodgepodge of genres and styles. It’s fun, witty and charming, with just the right amount of action thrown in for good measure. I ended up turning a full 180 in my opinion of the film around the 1/3rd mark of the film and it behooves the watcher to give the film time to really come into its own before making a final decision. With great audio and video it’s a no brainer to check out for fans of Asian cinema. I personally am glad to have picked it up and recommend it for a watch.
Starring: Ye Liu, Hanyu Zhang, Bo Huang
Directed by: Hu Guan
Written by: Hu Guan, Run Nian Dong
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin/Japanese: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin/Japanese DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 24th, 2014
Buy The Chef, The Actor, the Scoundrel Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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