This Is Not What I Expected (2017) [New York Asian Film Festival 2017]

In a hotel he is about to buy, a CEO meets a young chef who is a mess but also cooks the best food he has ever tasted.  Through her cooking, they connect.

Based on the novel by Lan Bai Se, the film version is written by Yuan Li and Yimeng Xu and directed by Derek Hui and creates a kooky, quirky (in the right way) story and film.  They take two characters at complete odds and bring them together in a way that works, in a way that is almost magic.  The film works with elements that could be considered quirky but they work so well here that once the viewer is involved with the story, that they make sense.  Something that could have been an annoyance or an aspect to take one out of the film works beautifully here, seamlessly even.  Something like the rain scene (no further details to not spoil it), makes sense and works with the characters and where they are in their relationship.  These aspects, small and big, add to the story and how it feels while watching it.

Evolving in this fun world, almost reminiscent of Amelie a little in terms of feeling, are the two leads played by Dongyu Zhou as the young chef Gu Sheng-Nan and Takeshi Kaneshiro as the hotel tycoon Lu Jin.  The two of them have a chemistry that goes from this weird attraction to this charming developing love.  The way they interact with each is great to watch, but also how each one of the develops their own character, at odds with each other but eventually connecting and growing with and because of each other.  The way they work together shows real chemistry and that both can adapt to someone else.  Both Dongyu Zhou and Takeshi Kaneshiro give performances full of charm and sweetness, each in their own way.  The film revolves around them and they truly shine throughout the run time.

This Is Not What I Expected has a specific look that evolves with the characters as they get closer and connect through food.  At first their worlds are separate, hers the kitchen, his the hotel, then they connect and their worlds collide.  The art direction by Man-Wah Luk is on point, giving the film a cohesive look while the story evolves in many quite different places.  This is shot by cinematographer Jing-Pin Yu and co-cinematographer Xiaoshi Zhao who frame this and shoot each scene in a way that brings the quirky story and look together in terms of visuals.  All this work put together with the effects crew and others on this film create a visual feast that is adorable, charming, and a bit odd all at once.

This is Not What I Expected is a fantastic film that makes quirky work in its favor with strong performances all around, especially from the two leads.  It looks amazing and has some scenes that are flat out of a fairy tale.  It’s one of those films that will make people happy and have them wanting to watch it a few times at least.