A Japanese manga conceived for teen girls gets a Korean bigscreen makeover in “Antique,” the story of four hot guys who run a pastry shop, dealing with same-sex attraction and a criminal on the loose while preparing unpronounceable Gallic confections for their clientele. Helmer Min Kyu-dong zooms in on the mouthwatering cast and delicacies on sale, though this light souffle has a few too many ingredients to achieve a satisfactory balance. Still, gay and Asian fests will want to have this cake and eat it, before the pic starts reaping some cherries on the top in ancillary.
Pic is already the third adaptation of the “Antique Bakery” manga by femme artist Fumi Yoshinaga. The comic is part of the Japanese Boys Love genre, which features stories about gay relationships targeted at young teenage girls (take out the threat factor, double the eye candy). Helmers such as Kotaro Terauchi have been making low-budget BL movies for some time, but this highly polished South Korean adaptation is clearly aimed at the masses. Locally, “Antique” drew some 1.2 million admissions on release late last year.
Rich kid Jin-hyeok (handsome Ju Ji-hun) decides to open a pastry shop, called Antique, despite the fact he hates cake. The excuse he gives his family: “All the customers are girls.” Indeed. But all the employees are boys, as demanded by his star pastry chef, Seon-woo (androgynous Kim Jae-wook), a comfortably out gay man who learned his trade in France from his then-lover, Jean-Baptiste (Andy Gillet).
Seon-woo has a strange fairy tale-like quality that makes every man, gay or straight, fall in love with him — every man, that is, except for the slightly homophobic Jin-hyeok, who (as revealed in the prologue) is the only man who ever rejected Seon-woo’s advances, a decade earlier at school.
The film’s first half is a light, humorous look at this odd pairing as they start selling their wares (often shown in closeup, a la “Eat Drink Man Woman”), with even a song-and-dance number thrown in that plays like a cross between a small-scale Busby Berkeley sequence and “Memories of Matsuko.” The duo hire help in the form of sweet-toothed former boxer Ki-beom (Yu Ah-in, who eats more than he speaks).
The dynamics change when Su-yeong (Choi Ji-ho), a bodyguard for Jin-hyeok, appears. The pic moves into darker territory when Jin-hyuk’s reasons for opening the shop become clear, while more complications arise with the arrival of the amorous Jean-Baptiste.
As in the Sapphic psychothriller “Memento Mori,” which Min co-helmed, the same-sex love story, melodrama and traditional Asian thriller motifs mesh well, though it may be a tad much for some Western auds. Arguably, the pic could have worked just as well without the added crime story.
Actors were cast for their looks, but as the central pair, Kim and Ju especially imbue their stock characters with some humanity, and the shared history between Seon-woo and Jean-Baptiste feels surprisingly real.
The pic is brightly lit and good-looking; production designer Jeon Gyeong-ran turns Antique into a bakery that’s half Parisian art-deco, half Gaudian colored tiles. Costume designer Chang Hyo-jae overdoes the gays-love-scarves look but otherwise delivers work on par with the other tech contributions.