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The Soul of Bread

Michelle Chen kneads in The Soul of Bread.
  Chinese: 愛的麵包魂
Year: 2012  
Director: Sean Kao, Lin Chun-Yang  
Producer: Wang Wei-Chung  

Mu Erh, Sean Kao, Chien Shih-Keng, PTS Taiwan

  Cast: Michelle Chen Yan-Xi, Chen Han-Dian, Anthony Neely, Liao Chun, Lai Cheng-Te, Chiu Chi-Fa, Chen Ying-Chieh, Hsiang Lin, Phil Yen, Wan Wan, Janel Tsai, Ko Shu-Chin, Kao Chih-Hung, Huang Tai-Cheng, Hsu Jui-Tien, Chen Hsueh-Chen
  The Skinny:

Weakly developed and only partially convincing, The Soul of Bread is nevertheless a charming romcom with mostly likeable, quirky characters. Anthony Neely is the best-looking and Chen Han-Dian gives the best performance, leaving box office queen Michelle Chen oddly in the middle.

by Kozo:
Now firmly established by megahit You Are The Apple Of My Eye, Michelle Chen attempts further box office dominance with commercial romcom The Soul of Bread. This foodie-inspired fluff wonít do much to stretch her acting cred, but Chen is likeable and photogenic as Ping, heiress to a small bakery in rural Kaohsiung. Pingís boyfriend Gao-Bing (variety show personality Chen Han-Dian) is the apprentice at the bakery, but their long-expected marriage has been delayed by Gao-Bingís lack of sensitivity and Pingís own unfulfilled desires. Ping wishes to see the outside world (a.k.a. France) instead of sacrificing everything for her family like her late mother, who spent her life toiling in the bakery. Despite this difference, Ping and Gao-Bing get along amicably and she even wears his engagement ring around her neck.

Their rural life is upended by the arrival of Brad (or Bread, depending on if youíre listening to the dialogue or reading the titles), a handsome half-Taiwanese pastry chef who hosts a television program called Bradís Bread (or, uh, Breadís Bread). Played by half-Taiwanese singer Anthony Neely, Brad is on sabbatical to find the perfect bread, discovered long ago by his mother (Janel Tsai) at Pingís very same bakery. The bread no longer exists, but Bread asks Pingís father (Liao Chun) if he can stay to learn the bakeryís secrets and discover the bread along the way. Naturally, Brad is a hit, introducing French breads and new flavors to the local Taiwanese, while looking into his motherís past and charming Ping bit by bit. Unfortunately, Gao-Bing has a front row seat for all of this. Who will Ping choose, Brad or Gao-Bing? Will Brad ever find his motherís perfect bread? And will Gao-Bing grow a pair and introduce Brad to the Formosa Fist?

Soul of Bread is based on a Taiwan TV film, and it's worth wondering if the original shares the same flaws as this glossier big screen remake. Directors Sean Kao and Lin Chun-Yang successfully convey the small townís community and charm, but the narrative has many holes that need patching. Bradís story seems like a major issue at first, but the film quickly gives way to Pingís romantic troubles, which operate as metaphor for her choice between a worldly life and the soulful comfort of home. Thereís a workable conflict here, but it exists mostly on paper rather than on the screen. The backstory does all the heavy lifting, with screen action limited to whether or not Ping can resist Bradís Western-bred romantic advances. The events themselves Ė a bread contest, Bradís invitation to take Ping abroad Ė oftentimes seem rushed or perfunctory. Ultimately, the success of the romantic scenes may hinge simply on your attraction to or tolerance of the stars.

Anthony Neelyís Brad is a problem. While the actor has good onscreen presence and handles his English dialogue well, the character never makes sense. Brad enters Pingís life seeming like the perfect man, with the whole town quickly swooning over him. Oddly, no one (including Pingís father) seems to care that Brad is basically trying to steal Gao-Bingís longtime girl right in front of Gao-Bing. Also, Brad flip-flops often, transforming from sensitive hunk to selfish lout whenever it serves the script. By comparison, Chen Han-Dian manages subtlety as Gao-Bing, giving his proud and sometimes uncouth character a believable, winning sympathy. Chen does get some chances to cut loose too, during fantasy scenes where he reacts to the wondrous breads that he tastes. As the girl in between, Michelle Chen is engaging if not fully developed, and the supporting actors are diverting. In particular, Liao Chun shines as Ping's saxophone-playing father, and the cameos (including some from the original telefilm cast) are amusing.

As any foodie film must, Soul of Bread features occasional descriptions of delectable foods, complete with glossy images that should make the viewer hungry. The film isnít wall-to-wall with the mouth-watering moments, but they do pop up occasionally and appreciably. The food itself is not that integral, however. Bradís quest for his momís perfect bread ultimately becomes little more than a framing device Ė a minor bit of cultural Formosa fluffing that tells everyone, hopefully everywhere, that Taiwan is a nice place with people who love, live and make pretty damn good bread. This is nationalism via filmmaking, but itís light, agreeable and not at all insulting. After all, Taiwan isnít throwing anyone else under the bus in proclaiming their own culinary and cultural coolness. Soul of Bread doesnít come with a strong recommendation, but itís innocuous and tastefully commercial. But beware of carbs. (Kozo, 2012)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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