There’s an old saying that goes: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That is, if you’re an unmarried woman desperate to land a husband—an archaic concept that should be banished along with the word “spinster.” But in the feature film, This Is Not What I Expected, seducing a man by cooking for him is the expectation.
Lucky for her, the young woman feeling pressured to marry is professional chef Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu). One of several cooks at the Rosebud Shanghai Hotel, which happens to be on the acquisition slate, Shengnan works magic with food. She also has a conceited, callous boyfriend in the hotel’s manager (Tony Yang), who dumps her, body-shaming her by complaining about her plain looks and invisible curves.
Stunned, Shengnan frets over her appearance even though she’s charming, cute and likely the best chef in China. With her tattooed forearms, tousled hair, ill-fitting clothes, chaotic apartment and loyal dog, Boss, she’s an eclectic creature with a culinary gift. Yet the message that sinks in is that she’s a failure because at 33, she’s without a mate.
Meanwhile, the CEO of the acquisition group, Lu Jin (Kaneshiro Takeshi), makes an inspection of the hotel. A germaphobe, and extremely persnickety about the dining experience, Jin is prone to boiling ramen with a stopwatch to assure the correct tenderness of the noodles. He also indiscreetly spits out anything that doesn’t impress his picky taste buds.
Rejecting every dish the hotel serves him, Jin is ready to exit when he tastes Shengnan’s special spaghetti. Not only does he uncover poetic musings simply by inhaling its fragrant ingredients, but he’s overwhelmed with emotion, too—something alien to the wealthy misanthrope.
When Shengnan is ordered to prepare more exclusive dishes for Jin, she complies and Jin is genuinely moved by the exquisite cues he receives from them; like the dish featuring squid ink that Jin believes broadcasts Shegnan’s disappearance like a squid upon releasing its ink. On a quest to meet the mysterious chef, Jin is stunned to discover that she’s within his range.
With high production value, 1970s Afro-funk style music and the chemistry between Zhou and Kaneshiro, this rom-com is entertaining for foodies. But it clings to outdated cultural norms like humiliating women for not looking like supermodels or being man-less.
Another so-called “one China” film, the movie features first-time director Derek Hui, (from Hong Kong), heartthrob actor Kaneshiro (who’s Japanese Taiwanese), and the charismatic Zhou (hailing from Beijing).
‘This Is Not What I Expected,’ in Mandarin with English subtitles opened May 5 at AMC Pacific Place 11.
For a more serious topic, check out Stories of a Generation, a new short film series on YouTube featuring the Chinese American experience. Creator and director Ty Ng recently spoke with International Examiner about it.
International Examiner: What inspired you to create this series?
Ty Ng: Chinese history is told in movies in China, yet the history of Chinese in America is very limited in U.S. mainstream media and cinema. Asians have a history of over 200 years in America; and, although as a group they’ve become an accepted part of today’s mainstream, it wasn’t always that way. The experiences of the generations before are far different than the lives we live today.
IE: What do the stories reveal?
Ng: With every story, there are the elements of immigration, social and legal injustices, racism, discrimination, adversity and triumph. Who we are, as a collective race and as Americans, is the story being told.
IE: What does the series look like?
Ng: I wanted to create a short film series that told these stories, and to do it in a modern format that is convenient to how people consume content today. Each episode is approximately 15 minutes, with a new episode released each month. Although the first three or four episodes focuses on Chinese Americans, subsequent episodes will be expanded to all Asian ethnicities in America.
IE: And, what’s your story?
Ng: I was born in Hong Kong, immigrated to New York City, lived in Southern California and am now based in Arizona. I hope to be able to travel to major cities and capture stories throughout the country.
Check out Episode #1 currently on YouTube: https://youtu.be/6JJyAg9vsJU
For more information, contact Ty Ng at TwinTygr Films at Tygr@TwinTygr.com.
Another documentary free to view online is the timely Halmoni—the story of Ju Hong, an undocumented immigrant activist and resident of the Bay Area. He first gets the public’s attention when he interrupts President Barack Obama during a speech, urging him to stop deportations. When Ju learns his grandmother who helped raise him has developed Alzheimers, he’s determined to visit her one last time in South Korea. After securing special permission, he leaves behind his undocumented mother and sister for an emotional reunion with his beloved “halmoni” (grandmother). Below, director/producer Anna Oh answers some questions.
International Examiner: Why did you feel that a documentary was the best tool for your message?
Oh: We wanted to show an intimate side to Ju’s life that’s not been shown before and we felt that the strongest way to interact with our digital audience would be through the power of film. We wanted viewers to be present during his reunion with his grandmother. We wanted them to feel, experience, and endure some of the hardships which undocumented immigrants face everyday.
IE: How long did it take to complete the film?
Oh: It took about two years. I graduated a quarter early from UC Davis in March 2014 and followed Ju to South Korea for about 20 days of filming. The hardest and longest part was editing after we returned to the U.S. Thankfully, we had help from several amazing mentors along the way which helped us push through and finish the film.
IE: What is the single most important take away you’d like for your audience?
Oh: While we hope to encourage and inspire other undocumented and immigrant community members, our primary audience is actually people who may be unfamiliar with U.S. immigration laws and/or the struggles that undocumented immigrants face in America today. We hope to introduce viewers to the realities of being undocumented in the U.S. and the heartbreak of being separated from your family.
Watch the film here: https://vimeo.com/213793631