Film Review: Rice Rhapsody

by Celeste Heiter, Jul 28, 2006 | Destinations: Singapore

Rivalry and romance sizzle in this whimsical film starring Martin Yan as Kim Chui, the owner of a flagging Singapore restaurant, eclipsed by its more successful competitor down the street, a place owned by Jen (Sylvia Chang), who makes the best Hainanese Chicken Rice in town, and who happens to be the object of Yan's affections.

Jen has two openly gay sons, Daniel, a successful airline pilot, and Harry, a gregarious gadfly who has a new lover every other week. Jen fears that if her third boy veers in that direction, her hopes of ever having a grandchild will be dashed. A conspiracy ensues between Jen and Kim Chui to propel Leo, her number three son into the arms of Sabine (Melanie Laurent), a pretty French exchange student with a disarming gift for metaphor and metaphysics. Yet, despite his mother's well-intentioned meddling, Leo's best buddy seems to have a stronghold on his affections.

All the while, the culinary rivalry heats up between Jen and Kim Chui as he develops his own signature dish, Hainanese Duck Rice, a novel variation on a standard Singaporean dish that is soon the talk of the town when a sexy starlet named Gigi becomes one of Kim Chui's best customers. Gigi even introduces Kim Chui to an influential food writer who is organizing a city-wide cooking contest for the best traditional Singaporean dish. The family drama comes to a boil on the day of the competition, which, along with a crash course in Singaporean cuisine, holds surprises for all involved.

Rice Rhapsody is as squeaky clean as the city of Singapore itself, a pristeen clean that infuses the film with an ethereal glow. The cast is equally appealing to the eye, and sincere in their heartfelt portrayal of a struggling single mother and her three devoted (if sometimes disappointing) sons. The issue of homosexuality is approached with humor and candor, and Martin Yan proves to be a natural in his cinematic debut. Rice Rhapsody is sweetly satisfying, but much like an episode of Yan Can Cook, it will leave you hungry for a taste of his food.

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