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      Take Out
    Sweet and sour

    NYU film grads Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou do a lot of good things with "Take Out," a low-budget depiction of a Chinese-food delivery slave, although they tack on a needlessly hokey ending.


    It's become a bit of a clichÄ to ooh and aah over how little money was spent on a competent film by an industrious young filmmaker. ("Tarnation's" $218 budget has finally reduced this conversation to self-parody, and hopefully signals its death knell.) There's no question, though, that new technologies have radically democratized the filmmaking process. With "Take Out," Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou, fresh out of NYU film school, have crafted a smart, emotionally affecting film that makes their low-tech approach feel more like an aesthetic choice than a function of limited resources. As it's made its way around the festival circuit, "Take Out" has drawn more than one comparison with Italian neo-realist films like "The Bicycle Thief," and these comparisons are, for the most part, well-deserved.

    Written and directed by: Sean Baker, Tsou Shih-Ching.
    Cast: Charles Jang, Yu Jeng-Hua, Lee Wang-Thye, Justin Wan, Jeff Huang.
    Cinematography: Sean Baker.
    Edited by: Sean Baker, Tsou Shih-Ching.

    Related links: Official site
    Hawaii Film Festival 2004
    • Overview

    • Baytong
    • Clean
    • In the Realm of the Unreal
    • South of the Clouds
      • Steamboy
    • Take Out
    • Tarnation

    • Official site
    "Take Out" follows Ming Ding (Charles Jang) over the course of a day during which he must raise a significant amount of money in order to make a payment to the loan sharks who helped finance his trip to America. His only source of income is the tip money he receives delivering Chinese food to New Yorkers on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Baker and Tsou conducted interviews with New York illegals and spent a significant amount of time observing the action in the storefront restaurant where they shot the film. Their research pays off by imbuing a story that might otherwise descend (more often) into hackneyed sentimentalism with a documentary sense that is enhanced by the on-the-run quality of their video footage.

    While Ming is the film's protagonist, the most compelling character is Big Sister, played by real-life restaurant manager Lee Wang-Thye. As Baker and Tsou tell it, they were so entranced watching Lee interact with her customers that they asked her to play a role in the film as well. Most of Lee's dialogue was inspired by actual interactions from her professional life and she brings an intelligence, strength and sense of humor to the role that any patron of New York's Chinese takeout restaurants will recognize immediately.

    The film's most successful passages are the relentlessly repetitive sequences of deliveries during which Ming rides his bike through the rain and encounters a wide variety of customers, few of whom are likely to have tipped well. Jang wisely underplays Ming's desperation and mostly allows his face to become an impenetrable mask of isolation and sadness, allowing the audience to read the specific situations into his expressions rather than broadcasting every reaction and working too hard to imbue each moment with "dramatic" pathos. This quiet, subtle performance only enhances the deadening routine of the deliveries. The audience gets tired watching Ming was he gets wetter and wetter and bikes through and around Times Square again and again. His weariness becomes our weariness, which is "Take Out's" greatest achievement.

    This almost existential quality is compromised somewhat by an unnecessarily brutal event towards the end of the film which is immediately followed by an almost saccharine reversal, a sort of deus ex coworker-with-an-ATM-card. While likely inspired by a real event, or series of events, these more traditionally dramatic moments rob the film of its real focus: the terrible boredom and disappointment that greets so many of those who come to the States to build a better life for themselves and better provide for their families.

    NOVEMBER 9, 2004

    Reader comments on Take Out:

  • movie review   from nm, Jun 3, 2008

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