New directing talents Sean Kao (高炳權) and Lin Chun-yang (林君陽) make a respectable stab at romantic comedy with The Soul of Bread (愛的麵包魂). The result successfully revitalizes the overworked genre with Taiwanese idiosyncrasies and easily connects
The film also boasts a winning cast led by rising star Michelle Chen (陳妍希) of You Are the Apple of My Eye (那些年，我們一起追的女孩) fame.
Chen plays Ping, the daughter of small-town bakery owner Chiu Pa (Liao Chun, 廖峻), who, now retired, spends much of his time playing in a jazz group and attending to town affairs, leaving the business in the hands of apprentice baker Gaobing (McDonalds Chen, 陳漢典).
Everyone in the village thinks Ping and Gaobing are meant to be together. But when Gaobing proposes, Ping hesitates. Before settling down, she wants to visit France, and experience the world beyond her immediate environment. But there’s no place Gaobing would rather be than in the small town with Ping and her family.
Their quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of Bread (Anthony Neely, 倪安東), a half-Taiwanese, half-French celebrity chef and TV personality who travels to the village to track down the bread that his recently deceased mother often talked about.
Bread persuades Chiu Pa into taking him on as an apprentice, and he quickly charms the entire village with his toothsome smile and yummy pastries. Meanwhile, Gaobing is distraught as he watches romance bud between Ping and the French-speaking prince charming.
Eventually, the guys duel, in the form of a baking contest, over the girl. It is up to Ping to decide who the winner is and whether she will stay home with Gaobing or go to Paris with Bread.
Directed by: Sean Kao (高炳權) and Lin Chun-yang (林君陽)
Starring: Michelle Chen (陳妍希) as Ping, McDonalds Chen (陳漢典) as GaoBing, Anthony Neely (倪安東) as Bread
Running time: 114 minutes
Language: Mandarin, Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), English and French with Chinese and English subtitles
Taiwan release: Today
Modeled on the made-for-TV film of the same title that Kao directed in 2006, The Soul of Bread adheres to its genre roots and packs plenty of romance and lighthearted humor into its nearly two-hour-long screening time. Fun, playful moments, such as a musical number that involves lobsters and crabs, liven up the story. Needless to say, food plays an important role in the movie as Neely’s character shows how a chef should be passionate and treat ingredients with the utmost respect. He helps improve the villagers’ love lives with his cuisine.
Though the directing duo behind The Soul of Bread fall foul of several moviemaking pitfalls, their biggest achievement is spicing up the rom-com genre with a distinctively Taiwanese flair.
On the one hand, we have the foreign-educated, cosmopolitan Bread. On the other, there’s Gaobing, an archetypical taike (台客), who wears flip-flops and performs at local temple fairs. The tight, focused script neatly revolves around the motif of the traditional versus the contemporary that takes shape in what is painted as a typical small town where residents are loud and full of warmth and the deity Nezha (哪吒) and pineapple bread (菠蘿麵包), a type of sweet bun sold at mom-and-pop bakeries, play a part in winning a girl’s heart.
Appearing alongside well-cast veteran actors, including Liao, Michelle Chen is sweet and lovable, while Taiwanese American actor Neely does an adequate job as Mr Perfect. Noted for his hooligan roles in Monga (艋舺) and Jump! Boys (翻滾吧！男孩), McDonalds Chen is no stranger to strong emotions, but he appears awkward when struggling to convey the more subtle feelings his character Gaobing requires.