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September 21, 2017

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The Soul of Bread (愛的麵包魂)

The "Soul of Bread" (愛的麵包魂) is a light-hearted romantic comedy directed by Sean Kao (高柄權) and Lin Chun-yang (林君楊), whose award-winning screenplay granted high anticipations for the movie after an equally successful TV version in 2006.

The story is told within a framework of binary opposition. In terms of characters, Anthony Neely (倪安東) plays Brad, a French-born Chinese who represents exoticism in the movie. In search for the recipe of his late mother's favorite bread, Brad, a well-known baker and TV host visits a small town in Taiwan; there he meets Ping, a girl whose family runs an old fashioned bakery, as well as Ping's long-time boyfriend Gao-bing, the chief baker at the shop.

People in the small town don't find Brad a total stranger because of his Asian look. However the way he thinks and acts is closer to someone who received education in a western country. His "in between" identity is where the film's exoticism comes from.

On the other hand, Gao-bing, played by Chen Han-dian (陳漢典), is a baker who started his apprenticeship at a young age, and later became chief baker at the local bakery. He joins traditional temple rites and leads younger kids in town. Gao-bing, who has never left the town where he lives and works, is positioned as the "the grassroots guy." The comparison also lies in the naming of the characters, as Brad pronounces similar to "bread", and Gao-bing sounds like "pastry" in Chinese.

Conflict rises between Brad and Gao-bing when Gao-bing asks Ping to marry him, but the latter hesitates for her yet unrealized dreams, for which Brad presents possibilities of fulfilling. Ping therefore faces a dilemma of making the right choice.

Brad becomes an apprentice at the bakery, bringing in novel recipes that the townspeople have never tried. His enthusiasm and friendliness are welcomed by them and his friendship with Ping gradually grows. This worries Gao-bing who sees his status threatened as chief baker and the only choice for Ping.

During a baking competition between Gao-bing and Brad, it is for the people in town to vote for the best baker and eventually the best man must be decided by Ping's vote.

Basing the plot on a framework of binary opposition has its advantages and disadvantages. The audience understands the structure easily, especially when it comes to the point where Ping has to make her choice between foreign and local. However, the design also limits the possible developments and therefore makes the story predictable. In this case, the close-ended story leaves nearly no room for contemplation.

Ping played by Michelle Chen (陳妍希) carries on her talent in interpreting a candid, naïve girl facing a love triangle. After winning critical praise for her role in the popular Taiwanese film "You are the Apple of My Eye" (那些年,我們一起追的女孩).

Liao Jun (廖峻) plays Ping's father who often chitchats over the community radio, adding a nostalgic layer to the movie. ■

► Directed by Gao Bing-quan and Lin Chun-Yang / With Chen Han-dian, Michelle Chen, Liao Jun and Anthony Neely / Comedy, Romance / Taiwan / 2012 / 114 min. / Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles / ★★★☆☆ / Now Showing

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