Director: Kao Pin-chuan
Starring: Han Dian Chen, Michelle Chen, Ying Chieh Chen, Yan-xi Hou, Rex Kao, Anthony Neely
The Soul of Bread follows Gao-bing (Chen Han-Dian) a baker in small Taiwanese town. He works for the father of his longtime girlfriend Ping (Michelle Chen) and seems content to inherit the bakery despite urging by Ping to compete and showcase his talents on a worldwide stage. Enter Bread (Anthony Neely), a famous TV baking personality who comes to the town because it is his mother’s hometown and he is looking to find the bread that his mother always told him contained the ‘Soul of Bread.” Finding it in Ping’s shop he petitions for an apprenticeship and is soon wowing the locals. With Ping distracted by the handsome newcomer, Gao-bing must reinforce his claim on the bakery and win Ping back from the overly charming Bread/Brad.
Chen Han-Dian is very good as Gao-bing. He is sympathetic and has some extremely funny daydreams, in regards to his tasting of delicious foods. It reminded me of the manga series Yakitate!. Anthony Neely’s Bread/Brad is good, but impossibly charismatic in the film. He quickly wins the townspeople over overnight and while Gao-bing is absolutely liked by the people, he seems brushed aside somewhat ceremoniously. Michelle Chen fares a little worse but turns in a solid performance nonetheless. Her flightiness and wishy washy nature will turn off some viewers, but in general she plays the role as likable. Throw in some good supporting performances and the film handles the casting very well.
In terms of storyline, the film does drag a bit, especially during the second act. There are some unnecessary plot threads, such as Ping’s brother, which do not really add to the main story but instead wrongly steal time from it. Overall, though, it’s fine and the film has a nice balance of comedy and drama.
The production value is quite good for the film. The sets are large and the occasional use of special effects is not overdone but wisely implemented. Music has a popish feel to go with the largely commercial nature of the film, but it fits and seems well chosen and scored. The visual look of the film is where it really stands out, the shots of food are thankfully long and I definitely felt my stomach react with approval. Generally the film looks and sounds good, but genre films like this typical do.
One part I’d like to say I enjoyed, but probably won’t be picked up on unless the reader is a baseball fan, specifically my home team the Baltimore Orioles, is the mention of Wei-Yin Chen playing in the MLB. His mention in this recent film definitely shows how much of a cultural figure he’s become in Taiwan and his accomplishments to the team this season was a welcome addition and definitely put a smile on my face.
In the end, The Soul of Bread is a pretty commercialized film that is just predictable as so many other romantic comedies. It is sweet and easy to digest and there are a number of scenes I enjoyed a bit. However, the fact that it retreads so much common territory makes it drag on a bit for its running time. With nice likable performances, good quality production value, and some hunger inducing shots of food, The Soul of Bread is a decent diversion. Knowing if it is up your alley is a piece of cake (haha) and if the trailer makes it look like your thing, it probably is.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Hear Me and Sophie’s Revenge