Dir.: Mika Kaurismäki; Cast: Chu Pak Hong, Anna-Maiya Tuokko, Lucas Hsuan, Kaari Väänäen, Matti Loiri; Finland/China 2019, 114 min.
This film version of Hanno Oravisto’s novel could have been a zany oddball comedy but Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki turns it into a charmless predictable romcom far removed from his brother Aki’s dystopian scenarios and dark humour.
Cheng (Pak Hong) is a recently bereaved widow from Shanghai who fetches up at Sirkka’s Diner in the remote Finnish hamlet of Pohjanjoki hoping to track down an old friend and repay his loan. Neither the regulars Rompainen (Väänäen) and Vesa (Loiri) nor the owner and Chef Sirkka (Tuokko) can help. But Sirkka offers the mysterious outsider work and a place to stay with his son Niu Niu (Hsuan) in a small act of kindness that will change her life forever.
Master Cheng soon transforms Sirkka’s ‘Bangers and Mash” venue into the talk of the town. Cancer-sufferer Rompainen is the fist to reap the benefits of Cheng’s refined Chinese cuisine, and tourists and care home patients alike flock to the restaurant. Sirkka and Cheng soon become romantically involved before the police intervenes when Cheng’s Visitor visa runs out.
DoP Jari Mutikainen goes for minimalism and idyllic panorama shots of the stunning landscape in Lapland, but there is simply no chemistry between Pak Hong and Tuokko. Hsuan’s Niu Niu is pushed to the back burner with Cheng forced to put up with embarrassing acts of endurance before being accepted into the male community The Master turns out to be the quite the opposite of its title – no excuses here for Mika Kaurismäki’s 39th directional credit. AS
IN CINEMAS 21 MARCH 2022