Kitchen opens to the wistful narration of an eccentric and irresponsible, but affable young Hong Kong hairdresser named Louie (Jordan Chan) who, as the film begins, has traveled to a quaint Chinese province in the rain to attend the funeral of a friend and former client. Concerned over the plight and well-being of the elderly woman’s beautiful and reticent granddaughter Aggie (Yasuko Tomita) whose dilapidated apartment building is in the process of being evacuated for demolition, Louie begins to make periodic visits to her empty apartment. Finding the emotionally fragile and enigmatic young woman invariably asleep on the bare floor of the kitchen adjacent to a partially opened refrigerator door (and on one occasion, oddly cocooned inside the hull of the appliance), Louie attempts to help her overcome her crippling depression by inviting her to the home of his sole remaining family – his ‘mother’ Wah (Law Kar-Ying) – a gregarious, kind, and nurturing bar owner who, he later reveals, was once his father. Years earlier, devastated by the unexpected loss of his soulmate, Wah underwent a sexual reassignment operation, perhaps in a desperate attempt to sublimate his late wife’s spirit within his own body and in a way, give his life to her. Similarly, Aggie’s attachment to the aromas and textures of the kitchen seems rooted in her profound sense of grief, attempting to recapture memories of home and her beloved grandmother through the familiar and comforting fragrance of her cooking. However, as Aggie returns to the routines, goals, and everyday distractions of a normal life, Louie becomes increasingly restless and withdrawn, and soon, their seemingly fated connection becomes a transient realization of lost opportunity.
Adapted from Banana Yoshimoto’s contemporary novel, Kitchen is a languid, sublimely textural, and evocative film on grief, guilt of survival, healing, and connection. Stylistically recalling a sparer Wong Kar-Wai film infused with a more sedated whimsy of Pedro Almodovar’s outré cinema, Yim Ho creates a suffusive sensuality, voluptuousness, and melancholia that reflect the characters’ innate sentiment of loss and longing: the lugubrious image of translucent curtains caressing the wind in Aggie’s empty apartment (that is later paralleled in the entrancing sight of morphing lava lamps in Wah’s kitchen); the pervasiveness of blue lighting against the darkness as she mourns in silence (slightly reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, a film that similarly explores themes of fate, chance, and grief); the saturation of metaphoric red decoration in Wah’s bar where she entertains the inscrutably resigned middle-aged businessman, Mr. Chiu (Lau Siu-Ming). Yim further incorporates parallel imagery to expound on the theme of interconnected destiny through repeated episodes of torrential rain that bookend the film, mirrored relationships through the adoptive lovers Wah and his late wife and between Louie and Aggie (whom Wah describes as her goddaughter), and even as a comic device involving shears as Louie’s neglected girlfriend Jenny (Karen Mok) strikes Aggie and subsequently Louie in a jealous rage after finding the young woman in Wah’s apartment. By tracing the romantic evolution of two adrift souls through the human cycle of love and loss, renewal and death, Kitchen indelibly and exquisitely articulates the ephemeral essence of fate, connection, and synchronicity.
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