'This Is Not What I Expected': Film Review
An uptight businessman and a daffy female chef forge a connection based on their shared love of fine food in Derek Hui's romantic comedy.
A cloying Chinese rom-com so full of clichés that it instantly qualifies for a Hollywood remake, Derek Hui’s directorial debut concerns an uptight businessman and free-spirited chef who meet cute, instantly detest each other and, naturally, fall in love. That they bond over a shared love of fine food marks the only distinguishing element of This Is Not What I Expected, whose title belies its overly familiar content. Still, the film has its charms, mostly found in the culinary offerings so gorgeously shot they qualify as food porn.
The lead characters are Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro, The Crossing and its sequel), the billionaire CEO of a company specializing in hotel acquisitions, and Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu, Soulmates), the high-strung, eccentric female sous-chef at the Shanghai hotel that he currently has his eye on. The two meet under extremely awkward circumstances, and their subsequent run-ins, featuring plenty of slapstick shenanigans, are no less disastrous.
For a good while, Lu Jin remains unaware that the young woman he finds insufferable is actually the chef whose room service offerings dazzle his epicurean senses to the point that he sends complimentary notes back along with the empty dishes. Once he discovers her true identity, he can’t help but become intrigued, to the point that he (rather preposterously) insists on moving in with her and her adorable dog. Fueled by their shared gustatory pleasures, romance, if not hilarity, ensues.
Despite the strenuous efforts of all concerned, the love story at the film’s core never seems credible. It doesn’t help that the talented lead performers have been directed to exaggerate their characters’ extreme personality traits: Lu never develops into more than a humorless prig, and Gu’s relentless daffiness quickly becomes annoying. Director Hui’s screenplay has its imaginative moments, most notably a hallucinatory episode after the couple ingests toxic blowfish. But the story strains far too hard for laughs while never managing to tug at the heartstrings. When you truly don’t care whether or not the characters in a romantic comedy wind up together, it’s a sure sign that something has gone amiss. You will, however, learn a valuable lesson on how to make the perfect instant ramen.
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Dongyu, Ming Xi, Tony Yang, Chiling Lin Chi-Ling, John Chang Kuo-Chu
Director-screenwriter: Derek Hui
Producers: Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-Chun
Production designer: Ben Luk Man-wah