27°C LOAF ROCKS
Directed by Lin Cheng-sheng
Official Selection, 2013 Tokyo International Film Festival
From deep in the Taiwanese south, on a pineapple plantation where you’re told “if you’re poor, you’ll always be poor,” came a young man who would go on to become a national hero and a household name. For Wu Pao-chun, the endpoint was never in question: he was going to become the greatest baker in the world. How he would get there would be the thing of legend – and of course film.
As mythologized in 27°C LOAF ROCKS, Wu’s goal is to master the perfect red bean bun, a staple of everyday Taiwanese pastry shops, and a reminder for Wu of his childhood crush, the one who got away because her family was rich. And so he hops from city to city, ascending from apprentice to master, in search of bread that’s alive, bread that moves.
There’s no shortage of food movies and 27°C LOAF ROCKS delivers all of the aromatic, gustatory pleasures audiences crave from the genre. There’s also no shortage of inspirational biopics, and this one’s a throwback to the classics of Taiwanese “healthy realism.” What director Lin Cheng-sheng cooks up though is a story of fortitude that’s not explained so much as illustrated through the sheer determination of trial and error. The temperature of the title is the result of Wu’s culinary experimentation – the optimal setting for pastry perfection. It is energy cultivated from conviction, heat transformed into art. It pulsates with the heart of filial devotion and puppy love.
Lin, also a former baker from the sticks, keeps the film from falling into cloying melodrama by capturing a sort of desperation – that this is his story too, and that he should tell it as if his life depended on it. As Wu Pao-chun does, the film thinks beyond the strictures of local tradition, becoming enthralled with the possibilities of cultural borrowing and adventure. Food, like cinema, can put a marginalized nation like Taiwan on a level international playing field. Done right, it also warms the heart. –Brian Hu
Pastry reception sponsored by Pangea