Min-su ChoiMi-yeon LeeKyun-dong Yeo
Love Bakery
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Hun-Su Park
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Keywords: comedy
Actor: Min-su Choi, Sin-Hye Hwang, Mi-yeon Lee, Kyun-dong Yeo
Format: 104 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0293300/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 15 May 2012
No, it's not a pink film. Get your minds out of the gutter. It's a South Korean comedy about a baker who's a bit of an emotional loose cannon and really, really loves bread. It's funny and light, but at the same time kind of unsettling and at times disturbing.
The best thing about this film is Min-su Choi in the lead role, who put me in mind of Koichi Sato. He's got the same kind of matinee idol looks and enormous charm, but also enough talent that you want to watch him as an actor in his own right too. Admittedly here he's occasionally playing some broad notes, but I don't mind that because what he's pulling off is fiendishly difficult. I'm surprised to see that his CV is sparse according to imdb, although in fairness imdb isn't infallible and I know there's at least some TV they've missed out. Anyway, the role Choi's playing here is:
(a) a lunatic freak who's liable to do things that make you want to scream. It's like watching a monkey playing with matches and gunpowder.
(b) charming and sincere in his love of both bread and the women in his life, even when the different sincere feelings he's holding at the same time would appear to be incompatible.
(c) sometimes a broad comedy character
(d) capable of subtlety and detailed emotional truth
(e) at once exasperating and likeable. He'll make you pull your hair out, yet never loses your affections or even once lets the film's difficult tone slip.
There are four main characters, divided approximately into two couples. Choi is married to Sin-Hye Hwang and is hopelessly in love with her, but sometimes she sighs. This is a worry for him. However at the same time, Choi intellectualises and eroticises the bread-making process and his love for baked goods is the most important thing in his life, even more than himself, his family and the fact that it's his financial livelihood. "Making bread is like being in love."
Meanwhile Kyun-dong Yeo is a boorish, somewhat pathetic novelist who's in love with food, thus making him the ying to Choi's yang. He's married to Mi-yeon Lee, but they have a terrible relationship because she's a bitch and he deserves it.
Theoretically this film is charming. It's funny, I'm fond of its characters and it has a light touch. Even the soundtrack is adorable, with music that sometimes breaks out in cute female voices singing "dooba dooba dooba doo-ba". However at the same time, it made me uneasy. It begins with Choi being so happy and trying so hard to please Hwang that you just know something's going to go wrong. This feeling never fully went away. Sometimes it would recede and I'd be simply enjoying the film, but then something nearly disturbing would loom and I'd find myself having trouble looking at the screen.
There are also a few little Korean moments, just to remind you to take nothing for granted. The car crash is funny and harmless, but still surprising. There's also a bit where they try to fool us into thinking we're watching a rape, Choi and his neighbour punching each other hard in the face and life insurance policies that pay out half a million if your spouse dies. Lee has bought two of them. That bit scared me, since I thought it entirely possible that the film might have been about to do some homicidally dark plot twists.
Did I find this film easy to watch? No, although I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to things like this. However the film uses all this mild audience trauma to build up more emotional weight, until by the end I found myself more strongly affected that I'd expected. This is an excellent film. It deserves to be much better known, but unfortunately it's fairly obscure as it's not a relaxing audience-pleaser. It'll get to you, but that's in the end after a certain amount of audience suffering on behalf of the hapless, silly Choi. Looking up its writer-director's other work, Perfect Partner sounds not dissimilar to this film (two couples, a main character who's also a writer, falling in love stimulating creativity but comes at a price), while Two Guys sounds a bit like a Korean Guy Ritchie film, but funnier. The two reviews I read made it sound hysterical, actually.
However I was talking about Love Bakery. It's a comedy with an unusual tone. It's light and charming, but it has bite. It's broad, but underneath that it's sober and doesn't shy away from emotional truths. It also has the funniest double entendre sequence I've ever seen, because Choi doesn't have a clue what he's saying. That's just the way he thinks... although that said, sex and bread are for him almost two aspects of the same thing. He loves. I'm terribly fond of him, although sometimes I wanted to slap him silly. I'm also worried about the implications of the ending, but that's clearly deliberate. To a carefully selected audience, I'd recommend this one quite strongly.