Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 8:47 am 
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Strong silent type

Mr. Long is a unique, perplexing, and rather uneven kind of pleasure. Its star, Chang Chen, an actor who excels at both martial arts and cooking, as does the lead character he plays, originally starred in the 1991 Edward Yang classic A Brighter Summer Day and subsequently worked with Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee. His near-silent performance as "Mr. Long" in Sabu's eponymous film he's been compared to those of Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone Westerns. But the personality he project made me think back rather to "Caine, who wanders the earth," the David Carradine "Kung Fu" TV hero of the early Seventies. Something of the inner wisdom is there, though Mr. Long ("Ryo-san" is the original title))isn't shaven-headed like Caine but has a big swatch of hair down one side of his forehead. Ryo-san is a Taiwanese hitman so confident he wipes out a crowd of baddies with nothing but a short knife. This makes for a different kind of wipeout scene.

Owen Gleiberman in Variety points out there is "a tradition, if not a huge one, of movies that feature heroes who are too cool to speak" (Leone's Eastwood), and "Ryo-san" partakes of this tradition (Mark Shilling of Japan Times alludes to this also in his review). The silence is partly due to linguistic limitations, the hitman having been sent to Tokyo but only speaking Chinese. Chang Chen has also been compared to early Johnny Depp here (when he still had the indie cred), and that's partly right. There's something familiar about Chang Chen's face, the more haunting because he doesn't speak to detract from what the face may say to us.

And Sabu is a different kind of Japanese filmmaker (himself a former actor turned director) who indulges his own tastes, moves at his own pace, and, others have said, can really touch you, but also can try your patience and pour on the sugar. There are aspects of Mr Long too manipulative not to be glaring. But there is no denying that the film's odd, meandering byways are interesting and often original to follow if one has the patience, which, at 129 minutes, can be a strain, however.

Ryo-san gets sidetracked, and stuck in Tokyo, because when he's ordered to so another hit, of a bleach-blond baddie in a casino, it doesn't go at all well. In fact he winds up without money or passport, in a gunny sack, being kicked down a hill. He rolls away and saves himself and takes refuge on the outskirts of town, in wrecked buildings, where he encounters a little boy who will be his talisman and companion. The boy is experienced as a caretaker, being in sole charge of his drug addict mother Lily (excellent newcomer Yiti Yao), a still-beautiful ex-yakuza call girl very far down on her luck. His plan is to take a mob boat out of Yokohama, and he has to scrap together the money however he can.

There's nothing here but Ryon-san starts putting things together. The movie is partly a guide to self-sufficiency. This is what makes this hero so compelling. He boils some onions, and the result is delicious. Before long a miscellaneous group of neighbors, a chorus, or maybe just a singularly obvious deus ex machina, comes along to set Ryo-san up Tampopo-like making Taiwan beef noodles from a cart in front of the local temple. They know he barely speaks, never Japanese. That's acknowledged as what makes him cool. When he's not killing people, he's not only resourceful, but a pretty nice guy, if you don't mind his silence.

He has a good effect on the kid and his mom, if you don't mind the child labor: he becomes the on-site dishwasher and general helper for the noodle cart. It's only for a few days, and Ryo-san is refilling both his karma bank and his pocketbook, gathering the ship's passage to Taiwan. The rituals of the food-preparation, Lily's detoxiing under Ryo-san's tough administrations (he simply ties her up, and feeds her broth), and the giddy silliness of the gang of neighbors accumulate. The neighbors are fillers to break the zen monotony, and even perform in a local traditional folk theatrical contest (they're terrible, and come in third).

Eventually the bad guys come back, or course (we've been waiting and waiting for them), in the form mainly of Lily's yakuza handler. You can guess what will happen, but not all the details or the flashbacks that show who Jun's father was, and what happened to him and to Lily earlier - or, above all, what will happen later after Ryo-san has made it back for a while to Kaohsiung City, a massive port town in southern Taiwan.

Sabu (Hiroyuki Tanaka) is a Japanese actor turned filmmaker. He has a second film included in the 2019 NYAFF, the omnibus film Jam.

Mr. Long (ミスター・ロン Ryu san), 129 mins., debuted at the Berlinale 13 Feb. 2017 and at least nine subsequent showings at international festivals have taken place. Released in Japan in 2017 and Italy 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF in July 2019.
NYAFF Showtime:
Monday, July 8
9:15 PM

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