So here is my full disclosure: I have seen one “rom-com” movie from China, which was the remake of the Mel Gibson “classic” What Women Want, which starred the far more attractive couple of Andy Lau and Gong Li. I would say that I actually liked it better than the American version, although that one did have Judy Greer and Bette Midler in small, decent roles. So I don’t really have a full perspective on how China creates romantic comedies.
This is Not What I Expected is one such rom-com from director Derek Hui and it may be a sort of typical, clichéd story much like the one expertly parodied in They Came Together, but it’s also sort of charming. The movie is about food, romance, and the intimacy of chefs with diners, so it takes the beautiful food shots perfected in Chef to great effect here.
The film stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Lu Jin, a classic debonair, persnickety rich guy, who’s the heir to a mass financial empire. He’s visiting the the classy Rosebud hotel in Shanghai trying to determine if it’s worth buying and renovating. But he has a run-in with “clumsy” (not quite as bad as physically clumsy), mousy young sous chef Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu), and due to a case of mistaken identity, ends with a defaced fancy car.
So it’s off to a bad start between them. But it turns out that Gu Shengnan is an excellent, challenging chef, and her dishes, delivered to him without either knowing who the other person is, begin a blind sort of romance between them. The movie dips into Amelie sort of absurdity at times, getting into slapstick comedic levels while moving back into light, sincere dialog and slow, normal takes on romance.
The initial conflict is that neither one likes the other at all but connect through food, not knowing whom the other one is. Flirting through food instead. At times, the movie drags a bit, but there are a lot of good building scenes, as the two begin to connect and discover truths about each other, break down barriers, and the like. There is only one of those “misunderstandings” near the end, but that is resolved as you’d expected.
The draw here is the charming chemistry between the leads and the depth the two bring to their performances. Gu Shengan is that kind of geeky, awkward type, yet brilliant in the kitchen. But she’s also not a supermodel, as the movie contrasts her with a more conventionally attractive friend as a reminder that it’s not just about looks. Zhou Dongyu does well here, and helps get past the typical rom-com clichés.
Takeshi Kaneshiro is quite good here, alternating between exasperation at slapstick and pained sincerity as appropriate; I think his character is fairly clichéd, but he makes it more interesting. Overall, it’s not like this will set the world on fire, but for a rom-com, it’s not bad.
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This Is Not What I Expected has a running time of 1 hour 46 minutes. This film is Not Rated.