“Sometimes you have to try new things.”
This delivered line very much sums up exactly what Finnish-English-Mandarin language drama Master Cheng is about. Directed by Mika Kaurismäki and written by Hannu Oravisto, this is a film about stepping outside of your comfort zone, having new experiences, and introducing ourselves to universal food as a way of healing and allowing the kindness of strangers into your heart. I very much enjoyed watching Master Cheng and found myself smiling and emotionally engaged throughout.
After the unfortunate death of his wife, restaurant owner and Chef Cheng (Pak Hon Chu) and his young son Nunjo (Lucas Tsang) decide to travel to a small village in Finland for a break away from the harsh reality they are in. Cheng knows an old friend of his, Fongtron ,who lives on a farm in the Finland countryside and decides it’s time to pay him a visit after having met a long time ago at Cheng’s home in Shanghai.
Although Cheng is unsuccessful with the locals for any help in finding his friend, he and his son are kindly offered accommodation from Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko), the local café owner of the remote village. In return, Cheng decides to cook the townsfolk the deliciousness of Chinese cuisine as the town are mostly only familiar with sausage and mashed potato being served on a daily basis. While Sirkka decides to help Cheng in his search for this mysterious Fongtron, the clock is also unfortunately ticking close to the end of his tourist visa, unless the villagers can come up with an idea to not only keep Cheng, but also his delicious Chinese food that everyone has taken a liking to.
I have to say, this movie made me quite hungry and in the best way possible. I loved watching Cheng passionately create and proudly serve up his Chinese cuisine for the Finland locals, which all of them loved, and it all looked absolutely delicious, too! But more importantly, Master Cheng isn’t so much about showing us how tasty and nice-looking food can be, but is more about food from different cultures can help bringing people together. It’s Cheng’s culinary art of Chinese food that really puts people back in well spirits and helps people connect. Master Cheng is all about love and friendships that are created along the way, and is beautiful to watch and witness the story unravel.
The cast of Master Cheng all deliver, but it’s Pak Hon Chu and Anna-Maija Tuokko as Cheng and Sirkka, respectively, that stand out. The two of them have amazing on-screen chemistry together and are a joy to watch every single time.
Cinematographer Jari Mutikainen also manages to showcase the most breathtaking shots of Finland in the countryside throughout the film. Seeing Cheng and Nunjo overlook the hills and forest in the countryside, the views are absolutely gorgeous, establishing Finland at its best and showcasing the beauties that the country has to offer. It even makes me want to take a leaf out of Cheng’s book and visit myself!
Anssi Tikanmäki, who composed the music, incorporates some gorgeous tracks that are very pleasing and calming to the ear, particularly the tracks that are played by the most traditional Chinese instrument that you would be most familiar with, the erhu. These stunning pieces play frequently throughout the film and fit the mood and feel of Master Cheng perfectly. I couldn’t help but put a smile on my face every time I heard it.
The only thing I can say I was not awfully on board with was how long the film was. At a running time of 114 minutes long, I feel Master Cheng could have been trimmed down a little bit. It’s not a film that bores you towards the end by any means, but I did feel that it started to overstay its welcome a little with some lingering character development that could have been cut or condensed down. It’s not something to put off anyone, but just keep in mind this movie isn’t a quick watch.
I highly recommend Master Cheng to anyone and everyone, especially if you’re in the mood to watch a movie that just makes you happy and feel warm inside. In a world that feels a little scary and dark at current times, this movie will definitely put a smile on your face and make you forget about the real world, just a little bit.
Master Cheng is out now in select cinemas nationwide.