Back in 2011 a review of Patrick Wang’s first film “In the Family” in the New York Times closed with the tip: This is a career to keep an eye on. Fast forward to late 2018 and his latest offering - which has its Taiwan premiere(s) this weekend at The Urban Nomad Film Festival - was included in over forty Best of 2018 lists with critics from, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Vogue among those championing the film and the New York Times coming full-circle by declaring “A Bread Factory” “a major work by a singular American artist.”

With the project split into two complementary films running at close to two hours apiece, prospective viewers might be concerned that Wang has overdone it, stretching out a story, however the two parts, while both following events in the fictional town of Checkford, are markedly different and the time taken to deeply explore the multiple themes is well spent and brilliantly performed by a cast which includes Tyne Daly ("Spiderman: Homecoming," "Cagney & Lacy") as arts educator Dorothea, and James Marsters ("Hawaii Five-O," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") as a celebrity actor, as well as Taiwan media darling Janet Hsieh (former host of Taiwan Fun) and her husband George Young as two upstart China-funded performance artists, May and Ray.

Through the lens of a small New York State town, Wang manages to dive deep into the issues, habits and behaviors that many of us engage in perhaps unwittingly, and raises many questions about the choices we make and the long-term effects on our society with a particular reference to, but not limited to, arts education and social media.

The first part is a complex look at the battles between the old-school and ultra-modern as the shiny new FEEL performance arts center led by MAYRAY (Hsieh and Young) turns the heads of the young and old alike in a town with an established and valuable arts center, the Bread Factory, which has reliably been offering a solid and varied education in the arts to the town for forty years.


Credit: In the Family LLC

(L-R) Ray (George Young), Karl (Trevor St. John), May (Janet Hsieh) and Alan (Andy Pang)

Without a doubt the double act of MAYRAY played by Hsieh and Young is delightfully absurd, however there's a strong theme of the tentacles of Beijing reaching far into the lives of a small overseas town - with outsize influence, possible corruption, murky funding and so on - running through the films which is particularly pertinent to audiences in Taiwan where Beijing’s United Front Policy has been gathering strength through not dissimilar methods, and many more besides. Director Patrick Wang is also an economist and when asked about the theme in an email interview with The News Lens astutely observed “I think capital and ‘economic opportunity’ have a way of greasing the wheels and accelerating change before individuals and communities can seriously consider the meanings and impacts of their decisions. The source of that capital can be anywhere, and in our time a lot does run through Beijing.”

There’s also brief reference to Beijing’s oft-childish behavior regarding Taiwan in part two, however Texan writer and director Patrick Wang, whose family background is Taiwanese, modestly suggests that he “doubt[s] a mention in a film by someone who lives abroad will have any particular resonance with Taiwanese audiences who know and live with the issues in depth. It is more to introduce the issue into discussions for people elsewhere who may not be as familiar with the politics. It has been useful so far as many great conversations have come out of this.”


Credit: In the Family LLC

Tour Leader (Ann Davies) with tourists in A Bread Factory Part 2.

The second part is stylistically quite different from the first with characters bursting into songs and dances that reflect the impact of a new tech start-up and a booming real estate market on the small town. However the staging of the classical Greek play Hecuba and the ongoing struggles of the beleaguered Bread Factory, as well as the minutiae of the characters’ lives, keep the film firmly anchored as the townsfolk respond to their changing world.


Credit: In the Family LLC

Jean Marc (Philip Kerr) and Sir Walter (Brian Murray) with the newspaper boys.

On the surface it would be easy to mistake the battle presented between the old and the new as good versus evil, or traditional media versus social media – but that would belie the nuances of this complex work. Wang explains “In the way the film is not trying to argue that one type of art is good and the other is bad, but that a rush to monoculture is dangerous and destructive, I think the same applies to its views on social media. Social media isn't inherently bad. I find it often useful, informative, and hysterical. But if it’s all we have, we will live in a form a communication that distorts our humanity and limits our ability to commune. Humans need and deserve more. So the film's a reminder that we have a choice to preserve some space for different kinds of communication where we can behave differently than we do on social media.”

A Bread Factory then is a powerful call for viewers to think long-term both in a micro and macro manner – despite the length one can easily imagine enjoyably watching both parts again and getting something new each time – the myriad themes are applicable to a world much wider than the onscreen small-town setting, and despite Wang’s reticence one suspects that the audience response in Taiwan at the Q&A may prove to be very interesting.

A Bread Factory (parts one and two) Screenings and Q&A

Part one: May 17 (Friday) 6.30 p.m.

Details: Running time: 122 mins.

In English with Mandarin subtitles.

Part two: May 18 (Saturday) 6:10 p.m.

Details: Running time: 120 mins.

In English with Mandarin subtitles.

Venue: Wonderful Theater, Ximen

7F #116 Hanzhong St, Taipei


MRT: Ximen, exit 6

Panel: Art and Community with Patrick Wang

May 19 (Sunday) 4 p.m.

Taipei Cinema Park Exhibition Hall, 19 Kangding Rd, Taipei

臺北市電影主題公園: 台北市萬華區康定路19號

FREE with online registration

2019 Urban Nomad Film Fest

Dates: May 11 to 27

Film Program:


Register for FREE events:

The 18th year of the Urban Nomad Film Fest includes 55 films, including 25 feature films and 22 short films and 8 music videos. Most of these films will be seen in Taipei or Taiwan for the first time. There will be 37 local premieres as well as 12 Asia premieres, while five short films will have world premieres. At least seven international filmmakers will visit the festival and around 30 local filmmakers will participate. There will be at least two concerts, and every single day of the festival will have filmmakers at screenings for audience Q&As. There will be several panel discussions, some free film screenings, and a few parties as well.


May 17 (Fri), 10 p.m. @ Triangle, Fermin Muguruza Ska Night, with Balkazar

FREE with ticket to any Urban Nomad music film, or for non-ticket holders NT$300 at the door


Taipei Cinema Park Exhibition Hall, 19 Kangding Rd, Taipei

臺北市電影主題公園: 台北市萬華區康定路19號

FREE with online registration

May 19 (Sunday)

2:30 p.m. "50 Years After Woodstock" with Fermin Muguruza and John Head

4 p.m. "Art and Community" with Patrick Wang

May 26 (Sunday)

2 p.m. "Film Funding"

4 p.m. "Music Video Forum"

Read Next: INTERVIEW: Hao Wu, Director of 'The People’s Republic of Desire'

Editor: Nick Aspinwall@TheNewsLens

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