Sweet, light, dusted with quirk and coated with candy cane colors, Antique is a gentle reminder that life is meant to be devoured, bitter chunks and all.
Director Min Gyoo-dong who directed one of the more intriguing Korean high school horror films Memento Mori---where a painful sexual awakening comes face to face with both social monster and vengeful ghost---continues his exploration of gender by adapting popular Japanese manga Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga.
Gone are the gothic and heavy with foreboding doom claustrophobia of Memento Mori. Antique, if anything, glows. It glows by contrast: trauma versus joy, sweet versus bitter, while delicious colors overlap and swirl to the riff of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a sinister undertone.
The movie opens with an awkward confession, Min Sun-Woo (Kim Jae-Wook) admits with much difficulty his liking for Kim Jin-Hyuk (Joo Ji-Hoon). Jin-Hyuk more than turns Sun-Woo down, he smashes a cake on Sun-Woo's face while yelling his disgust.
Years later, Jin-Hyuk puts up a patisserie called Antique and hires Sun-Woo to be his pastry chef. The rest of his staff, a retired boxing champ and Jin-Hyuk's childhood friend and bodyguard---are all bewildered why he opened Antique when cakes in particular make him vomit. For those who haven't read the manga or haven't seen the Japanese series, the reveal is a surprise, one that takes the movie to a darker place, which is still sprinkled with the fantastic: shadow hands that choke manifest a memory that was too traumatizing for Jin-Hyuk to remember.
After Jin-Hyuk rejected Sun-Woo in high school, Sun-Woo has become the opposite of his stuttering past: a Prada-snug love magnet that no man, gay or straight, could resist. Except, of course, for Jin-Hyuk.
Homosexuality is played with flirtatious sweetness all through out with a dash of magic. It's a refreshing approach with no hint of irony and wonderfully free of guilt or tragedy. Joo Ji-Hoon of Princess Hours sheds his refined affectation for the hot-tempered Jin-Hyuk. His comedic timing is ruggedly perfect; the consuming burden of pretending to be happy for his staff and his family never leaves his eyes. (Ji-Hoon was recently convicted of illegal drug use. He was given a suspended jail term and community service. More information about this here.) Kim Jae-Wook of Coffee Prince plays Sun-woo with refinement and grace, and delightfully counters Ji-Hoon's brusque, manly manners with subtle but tender gestures.
Musical numbers, comedy, sexual tension, murder, and cakes, lots and lots of cakes. Antique can be faulted for juggling too many quirks and styles, but it is Min Gyu-dong's unexpected visual hiccups---women in the flour, a boxing ring covered with flowers, a fist fight with a shadow creature---that makes this film explosively sensual while propelling the mystery and plot. It's definitely tricky but Gyu-dong's instincts are spot on. In Park Chan-Wook's I'm a Cyborg but That's OK, the absurd, hallucinatory vignettes often distract from the storytelling and made the mundane more mundane; cool ideas that accidentally became the movie. Here, it is played to heighten the sensation, to make senses more tangible: Seduction in the women rolling in the powdery sugar, Fear in the drawer that sprung out of a child's chest.
Above the din of ecstatic imagination and your own grumbling stomach---have a slice of cake or ice cream within reach, it will come in handy---Antique's coda casually serves a palatable food for thought: Take the sweet with the bitter, the acidic, the spice but never forget the icing on top.
ANTIQUE 서양골동양과자점 앤티크
Directed by Min Gyu-Dong
Starring Joo Ji-Hoon, Kim Jae-Wook, Yoo Ah-In, Choi Ji-Ho
Visit Hancinema for more Antique goodness. Below is Love is by FT Island MV from Antique.