Cafe Seoul-Redefining Kinship
Café Seoul is the story about a Japanese reporter, Jun Isaka, who stumbles upon a struggling family-run Korean bakery called Morandang in Seoul. He enters the lives of the owners, Sang Woo and his grandmother, in search of a good story, and ends up staying with the family to help keep their business afloat. Sang Woo’s brothers, Sang Hyuk and Sang Jin, have deserted the family, one in pursuit of his musical career, and the other to bake in a competing mafia-run bakery in Seoul. This construction mafia continuously harasses Morandang to buy up the business, and handicaps Sang Woo so he can no longer use his hand to bake. While hesitant and standoffish at first, San Woo eventually warms up to Jun’s annoying persistence, and allows him to learn the trade of baking to help out the family. This story emphasizes the adaptations of family, and the process of uniting over food and a common goal. Food has the power to redefine kinship through the addition of new family members, as well as through reuniting existing members.
In Cafe Seoul, kinship extends beyond blood, and even beyond cultures, as Jun and San Woo’s family share appreciation over the the charm and pleasure of the traditional handmade baked goods. Upon stumbling across Morandang, Jun immediately acknowledges the charm in having a family-run shop that takes special care in the craftsmanship and presentation of food, and he associates the love for the bakery with the love of family. At one point after seeing family pictures displayed around the bakery, he excitedly pulls out a picture of himself with his family, and exclaims that they are the same. Sang Woo and his grandmother eventually welcome Jun’s help and take him in as their own, teaching him family traditions for how to run the business. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the transformation of Sang Hyuk when he is brought back to his roots. As shown above, when Sang Hyuk sees the persistence and sincerity of Jun’s help, he let’s go of his biases and bakes alongside Jun through the night, which for him, is basically an invitation to the family since he was previously so closed off. Similarly, at the end of the film, one of the mafia members reminisces about being spoiled with delicious and fresh sweets by Sang Jin’s father when he was a child. Sang Jin’s father often accepted boys as his own, and invited them into his bakery.
In this movie, food also serves to reunite existing family members through the common goal of saving Morandang, and through reminiscing about the memories that came with it. During the baking competition when Sang Hyuk and Sang Jin are pitted against each other, it’s Sang Hyuk’s presentation of Nurunji that ends the competition, and the participants and judge lose focus on the outcome. They instead reminisce about the universal pleasures of Nurunji. While the others had flashy presentations, the Nurunji was very modest, allowing everyone to appreciate the homier, familiar, and simple flavors that remind them of family. Also, the Nurunji is made from none other than San Hyuk himself, which further emphasizes his transformation from turning his back on his family, to becoming a proud and active member of it.
The three brothers are also reunited when the Nurunji is served, and they experience flashbacks to when they were children and ate Nurunji in their family bakery with each other’s company. Below, all three brothers are reaching down in unison to taste the Nurunji, experiencing it together once again.