Despite its creators' claim of having been influenced by Lars Von Trier's "The Idiots," it's early Italian neo-realism and more recent Taiwanese film experiments that are the real guiding forces behind Shih-Ching Tsou's and Sean Baker's "Take Out," a deeply affecting portrayal of a struggling Chinese emigre in contempo Gotham.

Despite its creators’ claim of having been influenced by Lars Von Trier’s “The Idiots,” it’s early Italian neo-realism and more recent Taiwanese film experiments that are the real guiding forces behind Shih-Ching Tsou’s and Sean Baker’s “Take Out,” a deeply affecting portrayal of a struggling Chinese emigre in contempo Gotham. This day in the life of a young man attempting to earn cash for his family back home gathers impact by the reel. Outstanding no-budget vid work marks an ideal for Slamdance’s brand of ultra-indie cinema, and demands wider fest exposure and a sensitive distrib.

“Take Out” virtually takes up where Michael Winterbottom’s “In This World” left off, with a young male immigrant smuggled into a Western country trying to earn money for kin by laboring in a restaurant. Pic also dramatizes the theme explored in docus “Balseros” and “Lost Boys of Sudan,” concerning the dreams of newcomers to the States subsequently deflated by overwhelming realities.

Early morning for Ming Ding (Charles Jang) means being rudely yanked out of bed and battered about with a hammer by a pair of thugs, who demand he pony up by evening some $800 in debts owed his smugglers. The unforgiving pressure on Ming for the rest of the day gives the pic a simple, terrific De Sica-like hook. More harrowing, we soon learn Ming is expected by his clan to pick up the debt previously accrued in the States by his brother

Short-on-ambition Young (Jeng -Hua Yu), Ming’s co-worker at a Chinese takeout restaurant, is willing to give Ming all of his deliveries for the 10-hour workday. He’s been in the U.S. longer than Ming, who’s still learning to adjust. Most of the rest of pic’s increasingly tense time is consumed with Ming’s work, driven by hard-working boss Big Sister (Wang-Thye Lee), and the need to survive in a strange and sometimes hostile city.

Ming hustles the deliveries on his humble bike through a seemingly steady downpour, and braves the frequent insults or dismissive attitudes of customers.

The endless cycle of delivering, returning and delivering again takes on a hypnotic quality under Shih-Ching’s and Baker’s co-direction, but because their camera maintains close proximity to Jang’s Ming, the grueling labor of a long day’s work has the effect of enveloping the viewer as it does Ming. Combination with real-time action and a soundtrack stripped of music produces a rigorously unified work with one foot in docu and one in personal drama.

Even with a seeming excess of time devoted to Ming’s rounds, “Take Out” has a satisfying payoff.

Jang’s deliberately self-effacing and quiet approach to Ming subtly sets off his character from the loud and colorful types around him, such as Wang-Thye’s thick-skinned owner and Jeng-Hua’s funny portrait of a young guy lazing the hours away.

With next to no crew or resources, the filmmaking team adroitly puts across an immigrant’s view of New York. Baker’s vid lensing is beautiful in unexpected ways under rough-and-ready conditions.

Take Out

Production

A Cre Films presentation. Produced by Shih-Ching Tsou, Sean Baker. Directed, written edited by Shih-Ching Tsou, Sean Baker.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Baker; sound, Baker; sound designers, Tsou, Baker; makeup, Eva Huang. Reviewed at Slamdance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Charles Jang, Jeng-Hua Yu, Wang-Thye Lee, Justin Wan. (Mandarin, English, Spanish dialogue)
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