December 15, 2013

Cafe Seoul: A Multicultural Confection About Familial Love

Cafe Seoul appeals to the sentimentalist in me, the one who doesn't mind seeing a movie that makes me feel like I'm having an allergic reaction, what with this mucous-y lump in my throat, these teary eyes, and those involuntary exclamations of "Oh!" and "Aw!" Whether you'll have equally aggravating symptoms depends on how you react to to the small wins and losses in small-scale family dramas. My susceptibility in this case can partially be attributed to coming, likewise, from a family of three sons, each of whom has gone his separate way as an adult only to reconnect later, through unforeseen circumstances. More on that as it relates to the movie later.

Aside from that, this movie also appeals to me as a novice student of the Korean language. Since one of Cafe Seoul's main characters is a Japanese tourist/journalist, much of the dialogue gets restated and slowed down so he can understand what's being said. For me that translates as an opportunity to re-hear words/phrases and pick out the few I know. I appreciated that! That the Japanese guy and the Koreans he befriends use English as a Lingua Franca didn't hurt either.

For the viewer who doesn't give a damn about my family or my new tutor, Cafe Seoul has plenty else in its favor. As the roving reporter (Takumi Saito), the bespectacled baker (Choi Seong-min), a bad boy brother (Kim Jeong-hoon), and the old lady (Jeong Suk-yeong) who's the bakery's most faithful customer, the cast evinces a natural affection for each other. That warmth allows you to forgive some implausible plot devices, like why the youngest brother (Kim Dong-wook) is dead set on putting the family business out of business or how the mob boss (Kim Eung-soo) comes to leave the bakery alone. There's also nice supporting work by Jang Seo-won as a spikey-haired thug who wants to shut the bakery's doors even as he can't keep coming back to eat more rice cakes.

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