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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Retro Review: Chicken & Duck Talk (1988) #Hongkongcinema

Chicken & Duck Talk (Gai Tung Aap Gong)
Cast: Michael Hui, Ricky Hui, Sylvia Chang, Lowell Lo, Lawrence Ng 
Genre: Comedy
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $29 million HK

Plot: Old Hui runs a restaurant specialising in roast duck. His secret duck recipe is very tasty, but customers and staff alike have to put up with the filthy shop & Hui's cost-cutting way of doing business. When ''Danny's Fried Chicken'', an American-style fast food restaurant, opens up across the street, Hui receives a rude awakening & is forced to up his game to compete. He might even have to supply clean chopsticks. 

'Classic Cantonese Hong Kong Comedy Highlighting Culinary Differences Between Western & Chinese Restaurants That Is Worth Seeing'

Hong Kong comedy films usually don't translate well outside of the country (or so that is to be believed), but Chicken & Duck is at times a side-splitting effort that deserves wider attention from well, everyone. Though Michael Hui's culinary farce is set in the Chinese context - or more specifically within the Cantonese Chinese context- the film, in general, can be easily understood, even if you are not Chinese. I've always been told or led to believe that trans-lingual movies, especially comedies and comedies that deal with cross- cultural themes and social situations that are set in Asia, likewise, will not appeal to Westerners or non-Chinese/Asians and that all they are interested in is seeing two guys beat each other up through kung fu flicks.

Well, Chicken & Duck Talk, aka Chicken & Fast Food is a film I'd recommend to anyone, particularly those of whom are interested in Hong Kong cinema, besides the usual martial arts flicks. Another deciding factor for me was it dealt with the theme of food, and the Chinese - as many of you will know- (we) are widely renowned for its cuisine through the proliferation of takeouts and restaurants, in and around China towns and within Hong Kong itself. 

This film operates on the lines as an observational commentary and looks at the differences between traditional Chinese restaurants, of whom are going up against more established overseas - related Western businesses, whilst infusing comedy, humour and traits in slapstick and witty banter. Michael Hui plays the owner & chef of a Chinese restaurant that serves roast duck (the ones you see in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown) amongst other food items, who soon finds his business is under threat when 'Danny Chicken' - a KFC -like food joint opens its front doors and begins to draw in crowds. Especially the younger demographic. Though it doesn't help matters when the Chinese restaurant is badly run, unhygienic and his disgruntled staff becomes increasingly restless. 

You have your McDonalds, Burger King and KFC serving American fast food, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have local Chinese food serving rice, noodles amongst other food items that aren't burgers, fries and fried chicken. Which is interesting, given that almost 30 years on, Mickey D's, KFC are nowadays located in many parts of Hong Kong. This also shows that like America and Britain, Hong Kong has seen its proliferation of fast food restaurants. There is the ongoing battle between ordinary people going up against chain stores that try to put the traditional businesses out of business. And with all of these social themes, comes the comedy that underpins it and the comedy is brilliantly conceived. It is feel-good, hearty, silly most of the time but it still raises a smile. It's also fast-paced and as silly & witty as the humour is, Chicken & Duck Talk portrays the characters humanely; thus allowing us to understand and resonate with them. You have two people dressing up as mascots trying to sell their menu items trying to outsmart the other, you have infested rats appearing in and around the restaurant that they are trying to conceive away from the visiting health inspectors. & you have your domestic arguments and conflicts when they end up in a slanging match with other family members. 

Hong Kong cinema, in general, has been known for action movies, and more so its kung fu movies - your Jet Lis and Jackie Chans- and so when the likes of Chicken & Duck are released, it is only Hong Kongers who are more familiar with these movies. Although if you have watched either of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer, the comedy is virtually on the similar lines to that. In fact, Hui was originally known as the king of Hong Kong comedy, up until Chow took on that mantle. One can see Chicken & Duck Talk being a sardonic commentary on Chinese culture trying to modernise itself in order to challenge the so-called big boys of the fast-food trade. And that comes with its challenges: Hui emphasises that for all of the traditions and being Chinese/Hong Kong-ese in its food, no one will go to your restaurant if you don't go to lengths to modernise it. 

Interestingly, Chicken & Duck Talk was hugely popular in Hong Kong when it was released in the late 1980s: and was produced during Hong Kong's film industry heydeys, spearheaded by production companies such as Golden Harvest. It was also the highest grossing HK film in 1988. Even with the film being almost 30 years old, the themes, the messages, and comedy still resonate well today. 

Final Verdict:

Though the story is simple and straightforward, the way this is conceived within the movie itself is what makes it so humourous and watchable throughout. 

Hong Kong cinema is more than just chop-socky, kick-ass beat em' up offerings: it has its fair share of comedies too, and through the interesting premise and funny writing, Chicken & Duck Talk is a film that deserves a much wider audience. 

This slice of screwball, satirical, Canto-comedy is a harmless culinary delight that is so '80s - and yet its themes still resonate and are relevant in today's context. Especially in light of the big business vs small business battle that takes place. It is also extremely entertaining, watchable, with humour that people can easily appreciate in doses.

If you are interested in Hong Kong films, beyond that of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Chicken & Duck Talk is a more than worthy consideration and recommendation. 


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