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THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED (2017) review

September 27, 2017

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written by: Joyce Chan, Yimeng Xu and Yuan Li (screenplay) & Lan Bai Se (novel)
produced by: Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Yuet-Jan Hui and Felicia Tang
directed by: Derek Hui
rated: unrated
runtime: 106 min.
U. S. release date: September 27, 2017 (Asian Pop-Up Cinema 2017 Season V)

 

Sophia’s Choice Presents does a fine job selecting films for their seasonal Asian Pop-Up Film Festival from a variety of countries, but also from a variety of genres as well. So, when I see a comedy positioned in the festival line-up, I’m immediately interested, since any break from the drivel that passes as comedies from American studios, is always welcome. My pleasant viewing experience of “This is Not What I Expected” could easily be summed up in the film’s title. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a lively and fun comedy that incorporates fine cuisine with the age-old opposites attract plot line. It’s like ordering a mysterious Special of the Day and being pleasantly surprised with what’s placed on the table in front of you.

The modern-day story takes place in Shanghei, revolving around the Rosebud Hotel, one of several hotels in the city that is being eyed for purchase by the VN Group. The company has sent meticulous CEO and notorious foodie, Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro “House of Flying Daggers”), to review the hotel and determine whether or not to keep the staff and what to change after the hotel is purchased. Before he even arrives at the Rosebud, he catches a young woman vandalizing the hood of his black Audi in a parking garage, in retaliation for a friend of hers who was recently dumped. While at the Rosebud, Lu Jin is dissatisfied with all six of the dishes room service provides, which finds the hotel manager (Yo Yang) scrambling to find a sous-chef who would please the finicky CEO’s palette.

 

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This is when the mischievous and stubborn Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu “SoulMate”) is tapped to appease the fussiness of  Lu Jin. As a chef, the young woman has a creative and intuitive approach that instantly stands out, so much that Lu Jin winds up extending his stay in order to try more dishes. When he learns this fabulous chef is actually the same woman who vandalized his car, – someone he’s repeatedly run into since – his routine lifestyle and structured approach to life is upended, causing sparks to fly between the two of them, leading to an unexpected realization of attraction.

“This is Not What I Expected” is the feature-length debut of director Derek Hui, who has spent almost a decade as an editor, working on movies such as “Dragon”, “Man of Tai Chi” and “Skiptrace”, and one of the most recognizable aspects of this film is the vibrantly kinetic editing. My first thought was how it resembled Edgar Wright’s editing. As one would expect from the synopsis, food places a major role in this comedy – think “Chef” or “The Trip” series – and Hui zooms in on cuisine preparations and presentations, offering a salivating food porn approach that will satiate viewers. Working from a screenplay from Joyce Chan, Yimeng Xu and Yuan Li (adapting a novel by Lan Bai Se), Hui and cinematographer Jing-Pin Yu uses colorful and affective visuals to illustrate how essential and integral food is to Shengnan and Lu Jin. It’s not only what brings the pair together, despite how polar opposite they are – she is loud and messy, while he is composed and organized – but also serves as an essential part of who they are as individuals.

 

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At times, there’s a delightful fantasy element to the film, such as when Shengnan and Lu Jin trip out over some potent blowfish. It’s a welcome approach that breaks up any expectations we may have for the rom-com genre and confirms the energetic tone of the film.

Lead performances typically make or break rom-coms and in “This is Not What I Expected”, the two leads here are immediately magnetic and continue to draw in viewers with their hilarious and charismatic work. The handsome Takeshi Kaneshiro, who has portrayed characters in action/adventures and dramas in the past, helmed by some notable filmmakers (Yimou Zhang, John Woo and Wong Kar-wai), is given the opportunity to show his comedic side here, while also successfully navigating what restrains his character. It’s a joy to watch how Kaneshiro gradually unravels his character’s stiffness the more time he spends with Zhou’s Shengnan. She compliment’s Kaneshiro well when they are together, but honestly, I could’ve followed an entire story with just her character. Shengnan is an eccentric and unpredictable role that Zhou dives into 100%, without portraying the character as a manic screwball. Amid all the physical comedy and emotional outbursts, there’s recognizable heart to Shengnan, thanks to Zhou.

The story may seem somewhat familiar, but the way it throws Kaneshiro and Zhou into a number of amusing and odd situations, sets the movie apart from what we might expect.  Ultimately, “This is Not What I Expected” is an enjoyable departure from what the formulas rom-coms usually follow, offering two great performances portraying characters that are quite memorable.

 

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RATING: ***

 

You can catch “This is Not What I Expected” tonight at Chicago’s AMC River East 21, where a screening will be followed by “a chef’s perspective” of the film with local chef Kang.

Season V of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Season V runs from September 20th thru November 15th, tickets are $13.00 for regular screenings and $15.00 for films with directors and other special guests in attendance.

Tickets are on sale now at: www.asianpopupcinema.org/tickets. Seniors discounts are available for adults 65+ and students with valid IDs will enjoy free admissions.

 

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