Bakery Amour (2001)
by: Stephen Lo
Stephen Lo has more credits as a presenter than director and the three movies he has directed haven't made a huge impact on Hong Kong cinema. Neither will the formulaic romantic comedy Bakery Amour but you should never judge a movie beforehand, even if it seems like just another one in a crowded genre. Though it was released on Valentine's Day 2001, it made surprisingly little money at the box office.
Uncle Jet (Francis Ng from The Mission) leaves his Hakka village for an apartment in the city. One day he finds, stuffed away in the closet, 99 unopened letters that are addressed to his neighbor Lok To (Michelle Reis from Healing Hearts). The letters turn out to be from Lok To's boyfriend Gala, who lives in France, who in his 100th letter broke up with Lok To since he never received any replies (the previous tenant stole the letters for stamps). Rather than just telling Lok To about the letters the super nice Jet decides to try and bring the two back together again. He approaches Lok To about opening a bakery and since she has experience baking bread, she accepts. It's a success and when Gala returns to Hong Kong, he looks up the talked about bakery to reunite with his girlfriend. Mission accomplished for Jet but during the course of befriending Lok To, he has developed feelings for her...
Bakery Amour's entire content is all executed according to the romantic comedy-blueprint but now and then you get a movie that doesn't try and reinvent the genre and just tell a familiar story in a compelling way. I enjoy most of these Hong Kong romantic comedies and while this one doesn't rival the great An Autumn's Tale, it's still noticeable amongst all the romantic comedies of late. It's a simple story about a nice guy who falls in love with a girl and simplicity sometimes works wonders for movies.
There are positive aspects but I'll start talking about some of the bad ones. First the movie starts off rather shaky and doesn't connect with the audiences like it wants to. It does quickly introduce the plot surrounding the letters but the overall flow is more jerky than anything else. There is more comedy in the beginning which feels a little out of place and forced but I did enjoy the shameless toilet humour. Uncle Jet always dictates his plans into a tape recorder while on the toilet and every time he flushes, something different happens. As expected the flow is found when our main characters get to know each other though. Surprisingly a plot device, that one would expect to occur much later, is dealt with pretty early on. That could've stopped the movie dead but Stephen keeps us interested in the story almost all the way. It's when he, for a section later in the film, tries to flesh out the relationship with Gala (Conray Chan) and his new girlfriend (Stephanie Che) that the movie becomes uninteresting and flat.. We do realize in these weaker moments what the strength of this movie is; the developing bond between Jet and Lo Tok as portrayed by Francis Ng and Michelle Reis.
Screenwriter Leung Chi San hasn't written two incredible complex and multi layered character, which is a good thing.. We get sufficient background and more is not needed since we're following their friendship, not a life's worth of experience. Francis arc is the most compelling in combination with his acting. He's an older man almost trapped in a younger boy's body after an entire child- and manhood in a village and while his dreams of being a detective seems naive, it's plausible to him. You just have to have the right mindset and Uncle Jet has that. Michelle's Lo Tok is less layered but, again, what we know is enough for us to care and want to follow her.
Francis Ng is the veteran actor here and I don't think he would've accepted the part if he didn't feel he could do something with it. He just nails everything from Jet's subtle mannerisms (like not looking anyone in the eyes) to his boyish charm. You do think of Tom Hank's Forrest Gump as possible inspiration for the acting and like him, Jet is not dumb, just slightly eccentric. Michelle Reis is, as always, gorgeous looking but I'm not sure if she has the range to pull off more complex characters like this. That's not totally bad because she has, like in Healing Hearts, good chemistry with her the leading man and proves to be a true asset to this story. In supporting parts we see Helena Law Lan (who also acted with Francis in Bullets Over Summer) as Jet's mother and Beast Cops's Stephanie Che.
Director Stephen Lo also deserve some credit for his work. Directing a romantic comedy may seem like an easy ticket to success but to tell a simple story like this must be equally hard and challenging. This genre doesn't require a lot of flashy style so here directing actors is a prime concern. Francis and Michelle can't do it on their own and Stephen has done well with churning out the performances out of these two (and the rest of the cast). His work won't be remembered through this but it seems like a step forward for him in the directing department.
Director of photography Chan Chi-Ying (Just One Look) makes sure this movie looks great but simple. The location work around Hong Kong is very nicely captured and especially the village scenes stand out. Music also plays a huge part in creating the very pleasant tone in Bakery Amour. Composer Leung Wai Kin scores many scenes with happy and joyful melodies which will further bring a smile to your face after seeing this.
Stephen Lo's movie isn't at all unique among all the romantic Hong Kong comedies. It's a perfect movie for the moment but you won't immediately forget about it after the end credits. What I'm always going to remember about Bakery Amour is the wonderful performance by Francis Ng and that is enough for me to recommend this film.
Universe presents the movie in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It's a clean print but for a recent movie it looks rather dull. It's way too bright and therefore detail is only average. Kind of a step down for Universe.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also too aggressive, especially in the surrounds. There's good channel separation but dialogue especially was too loudly mixed. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also available.
The English subtitles did their job well but there was still more grammar errors and strange sentence structures than I would've liked. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras consist of very bland talent files for actors Michelle Reis and Francis Ng plus two trailers for Bakery Amour.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson