Jin-hyuk seems to have everything. As the heir to a vast fortune he has no need to worry about the future and as a good looking, charming young man he has no problem getting his own way in life, but nevertheless there is something missing - the woman of his dreams. In order to rectify this deficiency, Jin-hyuk decides to open a patisserie - after all, women love cake don’t they? So they’ll be sure to come to his bakery in droves and he’ll just need to keep an eye out for his one special lady. Jin-hyuk doesn’t actually like cake though, or any sweet food as a matter of fact, so his decision to open a shop selling them is quite a strange one.
He’s going to need help with this project so he hires Sun-woo, cake baker extraordinaire who’s worked with all the best cake shops in the city - only he can’t hold down a job for more than a few months owing to being ‘the gay of demonic power’; whether he likes it or not all his employers and co-workers fall in love with him and get their hearts broken so he has to move on. Shortly after Sun-woo starts working for him, ex-boxer and cake obsessive Gi-beom more or less forces his way into the kitchen to learn more about the delicious cakes he loves so much. Even Jin-hyuk’s childhood friend come bodyguard Su-young ends up waiting tables at the Antique Bakery. These are certainly four very different men, each with his own set of past traumas to address, but can the enticing pleasures of baking really be enough to see them through?
Antique Bakery is an adaption of Fumi Yoshinaga’s shoujo manga, which has previously been used as the basis for an anime series and a live action J-drama and is now transported to Korea. Although the film has been marketed as a gay movie, its shoujo roots remain intact and the film is in no way explicit; refreshingly the gay angle is something of a non-issue throughout the film. Though this may disappoint some viewers who were hoping for a more serious treatment of issues surrounding homosexuality in South Korea or more in the way of adult romantic relationships, it’s very encouraging to see gay men portrayed as neither a joke nor a problem but simply leading an ordinary life.
Alongside the fluffiness of running a cake a shop that’s entirely kitted out in an antique European style, the film also goes to some pretty dark places with a sub-plot involving child kidnap and serial killing. This juxtaposition of tones from the bright frivolity of artisanal cakes to something that’s about as dark as you can go doesn’t always entirely work and isn’t aided by a slight muddling of the serial killer plot aspect itself. The film is at its best when its being cutesy and frothy, and despite helping to really flesh out one of the characters this particular sub-plot feels unnecessary, especially as it never really engages with some of the issues it raises.
Antique Bakery is undoubtedly a very well made film with lots of interesting little touches such as the brief musical segments and the use of animation, but exactly like the delicate cakes on show it’s high on sugar and low on substance. Its candy floss-like stickiness might prove too cloying for many, but there’s still quite a lot to enjoy in this tale of four guys running a fancy bakery. It is often very funny and the four actors have great chemistry together, but it’s just a shame the film doesn’t quite have enough bite.