There is an inherently large amount of humour which can be mined from a clash of cultures. You’ll usually find at least one character in a comedy film or TV series who fits somewhere within the definition of a fish out of water. There have also been a number of successful movies, including Borat, The Intouchables, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Crocodile Dundee, which have used this concept as their main driver. Master Cheng never really disguises what it’s doing but goes about its business with a lot of heart.
Cheng (Pak Hon Chu) arrives with his young son Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) at a cafe in a small remote Finnish village. He doesn’t speak Finnish and only has a limited grasp of English, but is looking for a man he met in Shanghai. Unfortunately, none of the regulars can help him out. The owner, Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko), takes pity on them and decides to help them out. In turn, when a bus of Chinese tourists arrives, he offers his services as a chef; and he’s pretty good.
Master Cheng is a charming comedy which grows in confidence over the course of its runtime. While it relies on the acceptance of an obvious contrivance at its heart, if you let yourself go with the narrative flow you will be rewarded with a sweet and heart-warming romance. Mika Kaurismäki uses many of the usual drivers, but instead of over-egging the stakes he allows Master Cheng to quietly flourish.
Master Cheng opens in UK cinemas from 11 March.