Back burner

Is Nicholas Tse’s latest film designed to launch a restaurant empire?


Famous family: Nicolas Tse and his younger sister, the model-actress Jennifer Tse

WiC has covered its fair share of celebrity divorces over the years, including that of Nicholas Tse (see WiC114). Some of them are messy and spiteful, but Tse is one of the few divorcees who appears to have embraced his break-up as an opportunity for a fresh start.

“I really only started investigating cooking after my divorce [in 2011],” Tse shared with TMT Post. “Washing dishes, slicing ingredients, peeling vegetables, suddenly became relaxing.” For his newfound passion, the Hong Kong star has even been building up what TMT Post refers to as a “cooking empire”.

In 2014 Zhejiang Satellite TV launched Tse’s travelogue-cum-cooking show Chef Nic. Although the show wasn’t well received at first (see WiC247) it eventually ran for three seasons, combining cooking with celebrity excursions and informal interviews.

Tse has continued pairing cookery with light entertainment in his latest film, Cook Up a Storm, which opened last month. It stars Tse as a Cantonese street chef pitted against South Korean actor Jung Yong-hwa, who plays a Michelin-starred, Paris-trained rival. It is a typical story of animosity between two competing schools of thought: one traditional Chinese and one international. But as the film progresses the pair put their differences aside and unite against a common enemy.

Yip Wai Yee, writing for Singapore’s Straits Times, is unimpressed by the all too familiar plotline. “Unfortunately, the story is as clichéd as the food porn is great,” he writes.

“Taking cues from every other food movie that came before it, the film portrays the age-old clash between newfangled and/or pretentious cooking, and simple yet comforting fare. Nothing new is said in this debate and there is no suspense at all as to which side wins in the end,” Yip laments.

But the food porn, as Yip terms it, is undoubtedly the uncredited star of the movie. “Following a long tradition in Hong Kong cinema, the film’s cooking sequences are staged almost as martial arts bouts, choreographed with precision and dexterity that are as elegant as [they are] inevitably mouth-watering,” James Marsh of the South China Morning Post writes.

The film’s director clarified that for him the food was more important than the story. “I think that any old dish can become gourmet, but the ones we remember are the ones that are coupled with emotion,” director Raymond Yip explains. “If after watching this film everyone feels the need to share food with someone they love, I’ll be very satisfied.”

Cook Up a Storm only took Rmb80 million ($11.2 million) over its opening weekend, which is substantially less than the latest instalment of the Journey to the West franchise, which opened in China on the same day.

Scoring unimpressively on popular review site Douban, it’s unlikely this film will be a major box office success, but the high-definition food sequences might be a boon for Tse’s foodie reputation.

Tse was the “culinary consultant” for the film, devising all of its featured dishes. Could Cook Up a Storm simply be a showcase for a future restaurant under Tse’s name?

Tse has already launched a high-end biscuit business in Hong Kong, and his shop in the city’s Central district has seen a brisk trade from visiting mainland tourists. Few would be surprised if he grabbed the mantle of Hong Kong’s ultimate celebrity chef.

In fact, Tse may have ambitions to build a Martha Stewart-esque brand centred around food and kitchenware, targeting the huge China market.

However, he is playing down the prospect of entering the catering business – for the moment. “If I just ran a restaurant and didn’t shoot films or sing songs, then I’d be stressed to death by the work,” the actor joked. A denial, but not exactly a categorical one…

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