The Yakiniku Movie: Bulgogi (Za Yakiniku Moubi Purukogi)



Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

BUNCHEON, South Korea -- Two long-lost brothers from Korea face off on a Japanese TV cooking program in "The Yakiniku Movie: Bulgogi" ("Za Yakiniku Moubi Purukogi") -- a sizzling comedy/drama that will make you rush out to the nearest Korean restaurant as soon as credits stop rolling.

First-time director Gu Su Yeon has stirred in ingredients from two hit factors in mainstream Japanese entertainment. One of them is the long existing body of food-themed films, TV drama and manga, such as the classic "Tampopo," "Shoutai's Sushi" or the recent "Udon." The other is a new boom in films with Zainichi (Koreans resident in Japan) as a subject, like "Pacchigi!" and "Pacchigi! Love and Peace," "Blood and Bones" and "Dear Pyongyang." With proper marketing, Gu's fusion film could be billed as hearty family entertainment from Seoul to Sao Paolo.

Gu has no qualms about using the tried and true formula of David versus Goliath, which translated into this film's context becomes tripe versus prime beef, humble family-run eatery versus giant national restaurant chain and traditional recipes versus nouvelle cuisine.

Shot in a style that mimics and parodies Japanese TV gourmet shows, with snappy editing, exaggerated zoom-ins and loud commentary, the narrative is strung together by amusing episodes of culinary encounters that tantalize and educate, such as an anatomy lesson on a cow's various edible insides, or the secret recipe for making pickled perilla leaves. The scenes in the final showdown live up to gastronomic expectations, and endures -- no, demands -- repeated viewing. Instead of finishing at the climactic moment, the story stretches a bit longer to deliver a rather quaint message at the end: That what really matters is not what you eat, but who you eat with.

The two main characters, Tatsuji and Torao, embody different schools of cuisine and radically different values. Ryuhei Matsuda, who is gradually emerging from the shadow of being the son of the late Yuusaku Matsuda, one of Japan greatest actors, is suitably cast to play a grungy small-town lad who feels he could never live up to his adopted grandpa's cooking skills. Ex-model Arata is a perfect foil as the haughty cooking champion manipulated by an avaricious Japanese mother, and cut off from his Korean heritage.

Vegetarians get a bashing in this pro-meat entertainment, with cult actor Taguchi Tomorowo especially funny as a meat-loathing, weasel-like yakiniku chain manager, who buys out small proprietors with banknotes and bulldozers.

Gu Su-yeon, who is an ethnic Korean born in Japan, obviously drew from personal experiences of this immigrant eating culture. Unlike other films about Zainichi, which focus on the hardships and discrimination they endure, "Bulgogi" stays clear of racial tension and social issues. But then, so what? If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then a juicy piece of salt-marinated tripe crackling on the grill can also be a gateway to understanding how ethnic culture survives even when transplanted to a sometimes hostile foreign land.

Phantom Films/Cinema Investment/Tokyo Eizo Kobo/Pyramid Film/Eisei Gekijyo/Pyramid Film/Artist Film/Asahi Koukokusha/Pony Canyon
Director: Gu Su Yeon
Producer: Kimio Kataoka
Written by: Mitsunori Guu
Based from the manga by: Haroma
Producers: Kimio Kataoka, Masahiro Harada, Akira Ishii, Keisuke Konishi
Executive producer: Katsue Kobayashi
Director of photography: Hideyuki Mushu
Production designer: Tomoharu Nakamae
Music: MaMiMery
Editor: Kazuhisa Takahashi
Ryuhei Matsuda: Tatsuji
Arata: Torao
Yu Yamada: Yori
Taguchi Tomorowo: Harada
Kaori Momoe: Kataoka
Running time -- 116 minutes
No MPAA rating