Master Cheng

Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki returns with a story about a chef and his son coming to a remote village

Film Review by Ross McIndoe | 01 Mar 2020
  • Master Cheng
Film title: Master Cheng
Director: Mika Kaurismäki
Starring: Pak Hon Chu, Anna-Maija Tuokko, Lucas Hsuan

A Chinese man and his young son arrive in a remote Finnish village with nothing but the name of a man they are seeking. His quiet manners clash with the straightforward demeanour of the locals but, when he starts to cook for them, the cultural barrier begins to melt away.

It’s a fairly simplistic, slightly Green Book-ish representation of race relations with a strong “can’t we all just get along” motto that isn’t helped by the various Orientalist tropes Cheng embodies. He delivers worldly wisdom in slightly broken English, practices Tai chi, talks a lot about balance and uses ancient recipes to cook food that can heal both physical and spiritual ailments.

Oddly, for a film with such an obvious divide at its centre, Master Cheng never really allows it or any other conflict to take hold. It has the aimless, meandering pace of a children’s show, with the plot’s various obstacles appearing only to be solved moments later, without any real sense of drama developing.

Mika Kaurismäki takes a pleasant, steady-handed approach and basks in the Finnish countryside, showing a particular talent for capturing it when the sunlight is at its most romantic angle. But the film never really finds anything to do with its idyllic setting.

Master Cheng has a relentlessly pleasant quality about it and the idea of food as a bonding ritual steeped in cultural significance is rich with potential, but the movie remains content to skirt gently along its surface.

Master Cheng screens at GFF: Sun 1 Mar, 5.45pm; Mon 2 Mar, 3.15pm, GFT

The screening on 1 March will be followed by a Q&A with director Mika Kaurismäki