Review: 27°C Loaf Rocks (Lin, 2013) – CAAMFest San Jose 2014

Still from the movie 27°C Loaf Rocks

Whoever translated the title for this movie seems to have only a passing acquaintance with the English language and/or Western culture. The “27°C” refers to the perfect temperature for yeast fermentation when baking bread. “Loaf” is clear, but “Rocks”? Who knows? What’s clear to me, however, is that this muddled translation doesn’t bode well for the film

27°C Loaf Rocks is quintessentially Taiwanese pop drama. That is, look for more similarity to Taiwanese soaps a la Meteor Garden than the works of acclaimed directors such as Ang Lee, Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Three Times), or Edward Yang (Yi Yi). It is a feel-good film inspired by the true story of Wu Pao-chun (played by actor Lego Li), a Taiwanese baker from a humble background who, through diligence and humility, wins the Master Baker title at France’s 2010 Bakery Masters competition, the equivalent of the baking Olympics. For dramatic effect, the film also weaves in a love story between poor, countrified, uneducated Wu and his wealthy childhood playmate, who inspires his love of baked goods by introducing him to the delicious goodness of a red bean bun. As one of CAAMFest’s coordinators put it, “This is Taiwanese food porn,” and indeed we’re treated to image after image of beautiful, glossy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside breads, mixing, rising, emerging in all their perfection from the oven.

The film certainly errs on the side of the sentimental, from Wu’s deep, almost mythical relationship with his saint of a mother to his romance with the girl of his dreams. The romance, of course, is stymied by the girl’s mother, who asks, quite predictably, “A fish and a bird may fall in love, but where will they live?” So Wu the fish sadly (and drunkenly) swims away. But, no matter, Wu’s one true love is his baking. Along the way he picks up two bumbling sidekicks, one a pudgy childhood friend, the other a rival and bully eventually won over by our gentle and generous hero through an excess of goodness and compassion. If only a pure heart could cure all ills! The film also features the inevitable evil foe, a cocky young Japanese baker whose comeuppance the movie can’t wait to deliver.

The audience at CAAMFest that evening was filled with Taiwanese or Taiwanese Americans. In the end, they might be the only ones who would appreciate this film. As we emerged from the theater, I overheard a girl tell her friend, “Yeah, I liked it. It was cute.” Her friend (and I) agreed. Shrug. Sure, it was cute.

Update: What do you know, 27°C Loaf Rocks won the CAAMFest San Jose Audience Award.

Note: Trailer does not have English subtitles