REVIEW: 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.
By FRANK EPISALE
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.
"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.
|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
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Hawaii Film Festival 2004|
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|
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