'Lost in the Multiplex's' very own Lord of the Flea-pit, Julian White writes on film and horror for various sites and magazines, as well as blogging about cult movies. He plans to publish a long horror novel called 'The Diviners' just as soon as the strange voice coming from the filing cabinet stops dictating revisions. He currently lives in the 1980s.
Website URL: http://diabolicalcinema.blogspot.com
Never heard of Sasha Guitry? Don't beat yourself up about it. You wouldn't think it would be possible for a man who wrote over 100 plays and directed 33 movies to slip through the cracks of history, but that's more or less what happened to him until very recent times. In fact, he seems to have something of a Gallic Howard Hawks – amazingly prolific, able to turn his hand to different genres – except that unlike Hawks he was also a gifted actor and writer. So you might want to remember his name from now on.
These days it's Burton and Depp or Scorsese and DiCaprio, but back in the golden age of cinema, there was one director-actor combo sure to set the silver screen on fire: Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. Made at the very start of the sound era, The Blue Angel (1930) was the first of their six stellar collaborations. The tale of a brutal encounter between middle-class properness and the theatrical demi-monde, in its time it was very racy indeed, and even now it's aura of seedy eroticism remains thrillingly pungent.
In this frothy cinematic confection from Korea (based on a popular Japanese manga), wealthy dilettante Jin-hyuk (Ju Ji-hun) decides, for reason known only to himself (he hates sweets, so it would seem to be an odd choice), to open a cake shop, and employs as his patissier the flirty and openly gay Sun-woo (Kim Jae-wook), who had an unrequited crush on him back in high school. Forced to hire and fire according to Sun-woo's tastes, he rapidly finds himself a straight boss with three gay male employees – the other two being Gi-beom (Yu Ain), an ex-boxer who becomes Sun-woo's adoring apprentice, and the handsome but slow-witted Su-young (Choi Ji-ho), a faithful family retainer who follows Jin-hyuk around like a dog and manages to wangle a job as waiter.
After some preliminary ups and downs, the quartet are soon wowing the local populace with Sun-woo's matchless recipes, but things are not quite as smooth as they appear. Behind their plucky façades, each of the boys is nursing some sort of unhealed wound, and there's a story arc to do with a spate of child kidnappings which stirs painful memories for Jin-hyuk.
Despite the presence of these darker elements and a few moments of teary drama, Antique Bakery is by and large an almost giddily happy film, beautifully shot and edited in video promo fashion with lots of visual tricks and flash. Erupting into sugary musical numbers and glitzy montages, it's highly artificial, but never seems forced thanks to director Min Kyu-dong's enviable lightness of touch and the boisterous performances from the four handsome leads. The various same-sex attractions (Gi-beom and Su-young both pine for Sun-woo, who has never gotten over Jin-hyuk, who insists he likes girls but frankly, who's he kidding?) are handled in a gentle rom-com-esque manner that, you would think, would charm even the most blinkered of audiences. As for the edible stars of the film – eat your heart out, Delia Smith. Some of the slapstick and bickering is a little bit overdone for Western tastes, but on the whole this reads like a winning cross between Queer as Folk and Ace of Cakes, and viewers with a sweet tooth need not hesitate.
1892 is the time, the setting Wales, and the plot, put in a nutshell by one of the characters: “They're going to flood Dolwyn to send water to Lancashire!” – Dolwyn being a village lying in a valley soon to be turned into a lake. That is, if Rob, the spiv from the water company, has his way. He has come with bags of lolly, ready to buy off the cash-strapped local nob, Lady Dolwyn, and her leaseholders. All is not quite as it seems though. Rob has a score to settle with the village, having been thrown out of it as a boy for stealing. But with most of the leaseholders falling over themselves to sign and eagerly looking forward to being transplanted by the company to a Liverpool housing estate with all mod cons, it seems unlikely that anything will happen to postpone the submerging ceremony.
The Japanese apparently have two words for duck – one for the foreign varieties and another for the native breeds. Why this should be is only one of many small mysteries that crop up in this engagingly quackers film. Moving from Tokyo to Sendai to study law, timid, pint-sized college freshman Shiina (Gaku Hamada) strikes up an unlikely friendship with his next-door neighbour – a tall, droopy chain smoker by the name of Kawasaki (Eita) – over their mutual fondness for Bob Dylan. Shiina's other next-door neighbour is much more unforthcoming however – enigmatically so. Kawasaki explains that he's a foreign student from Bhutan who's broken-hearted after a failed romance with Kotomi (Megumi Seki), a girl who works in a pet-shop. Before he knows it, Shiina finds himself roped into a harebrained scheme to steal an expensive dictionary from a bookstore as a cheering-up gift for the depressed Bhutanese.