Film Review: This Is Not What I Expected

A struggling chef and a germophobe billionaire try to resist falling in love in a romantic comedy with a culinary focus.
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A romantic comedy that's more haute cuisine than romance may seem counterintuitive, but This Is Not What I Expected reaches its happy ending in a gratifyingly roundabout way. Bright, sparkly and light-hearted, it's the equivalent of cinematic comfort food.

Struggling with low self-esteem, sous chef Gu Shengnan (Zhou Dongyu) has just been dumped by her boss and boyfriend when she's asked to create a new dish after a client rejects everything else on the menu.

Gu works in a restaurant at the Rosebud Hotel, currently a takeover target by billionaire Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Fussy and arrogant, Lu eats by himself while making life-and-death decisions about his companies.

The two don't realize they have already met, when Gu was keying Lu's car in a mistaken attempt to get back at her friend Xu Zhaodi's (Ming Xi) errant lover. Lu and Gu will continue to bump into each other, encounters that infuriate both of them and lead to run-ins with the police, exes and bewildered staff.

They will also collaborate on food-porn dishes depicted with exceptional cinematography and editing. The meals—cunningly crafted to personal tastes, passionately served and eaten—become an obvious but still charming substitute for sex between two lonely and damaged individuals.

Making his feature debut, director Derek Hui (an editor on last year's hit SoulMate) displays a delicate touch and a light sense of humor. He's just as edgy about the script's big scenes as his leads are. The director is willing to let small moments play out at a natural, unforced pace, to wait for the point where his characters stop pretending and start to reveal themselves.

The impossibly glamorous Kaneshiro (Chungking Express, House of Flying Daggers) is clearly having fun playing a stiff, unhappy prig with daddy issues. Zhou, whose career took off with SoulMate, leans heavily on gamin mannerisms at first. When she slows down, when her character drops her pretenses and truly expresses herself, Zhou can be heartbreaking.

Adapted from Lan Bai Se's novel Finally I Get You, This Is Not What I Expected wears its influences a bit too obviously. You'll find lots of Breakfast at Tiffany's here, some unexpected Billy Wilder touches there, and a Hong Kong tendency to overplay slapstick at the worst possible moment.

But for a film whose characters are trying to avoid each other at all costs, This Is Not What I Expected builds to a genuinely satisfying ending.

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