Run Time: 96 min
For a comedy centred on the food-loving culture in Malaysia and Singapore, "Let's Eat!" is both overly seasoned and disappointingly bland at the same time.
It is rather curious that Hong Kong comedian Chapman To decided to make his directorial debut with a film about food in Malaysia, and on top of that, use Hong Kong actors as the main ingredients in his recipe. To himself plays the leading role as chef Dai Hung at a famous chicken rice restaurant in Kuala Lumpur owned by now-retired Ah Yong, played by Hong Kong veteran actor Lo Hoi Pang.
When Ah Yong's daughter, Rosemary - played by Hong Kong actress Aimee Chan - decides to return to run the business, Dai Hung finds himself embroiled in a power struggle with her. The restaurant staff - played by Hong Kong rapper C-Kwan, Singapore's Patricia Mok, and Malaysian actors Tommy Kuan and Daphne Low - are forced to choose a side as the two big players engage in petty arguments over who can best manage the restaurant.
Throughout the film, To displays his signature comedic sense with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top reactions. As his sidekick, C-Kwan also manages to add a dash of amusement despite the fact that many of the Cantonese film's best punchlines have been watered down by Mandarin translations used for the Singapore screening. It's a pity that their efforts are not good enough to prop up the film, which also lacks the local taste that many Malaysians and Singaporeans expect to experience when watching a film about their own culture.
In one scene to show off chef Dai Hung's culinary prowess, the Hainanese chicken rice expert whips out several banquet dishes such as lobster and prawns. Although To probably intended this particular scene to show that his character had a tremendous hidden talent, its meaning falls flat.
Call me square, but it seems a little far-fetched that a Hainanese chicken rice cook would cook up a Cantonese-style meal of fine-dining calibre in a small restaurant kitchen. As a Hainanese-Hokkien Singaporean, I find this very hard to swallow. But then again, I'm an old-fashion traditionalist who would choose chicken rice from the legendary Yet Con at Purvis Street over the more mass-targeted Boon Tong Kee chain found all over the island.
And while the chef bickers with Rosemary, sparks fail to fly between them despite the intended romantic storyline. When romance starts to develop, it happens unknowingly for the protagonists and regrettably, for the audience as well. It doesn't help that Dai Hung had acted as guardian to Rosemary when she was a child, and picked her up from school like a father or older brother would.
However, the lack of chemistry between the two main actors is less irksome than the underutilised talents of other great comedians like Mark Lee and Henry Thia, who appear only as guest stars in the film.
Despite this, efforts by the film's supporting actors remain commendable. Malaysia's Kuan shines in his role as a chubby kitchen helper working hard to give his girlfriend a wedding she hoped for.
Lo Hoi Pang, while limited by his character's development, also brings a unique twist to the otherwise dull script which drags scenes on longer than needed.
Perhaps the thing that "Let's Eat!" accomplished best was igniting my craving for Hainanese chicken rice - one that follows an authentic Singaporean or Malaysian recipe, and not a haphazard (con)fusion of flavours thrown together without the chemistry to make things work.