A precision-crafted, "After Hours"-like black comedy in which a double-parked car causes an average Taipei guy all kinds of grief.

A precision-crafted, “After Hours”-like black comedy in which a double-parked car causes an average Taipei guy all kinds of grief, “Parking” reps a strong feature debut by commercials/docu helmer Chung Mong-hong that’s far from the usual scriptless, navel-gazing fare served up by many Taiwanese helmers for the festival circuit. Western theatrical chances still remain very limited, though lead thesp Chang Chen’s name could give it a nudge in some Asian markets. Further fest stops should help to establish Chung’s name as one to watch.

The Chinese saying “Misfortunes never come alone” is never truer than for Chen Mo (Chang), who stops at a cake shop on his way home for a dinner date with his estranged wife on Mother’s Day. After a surreal conversation with the shop owner on what kinds of cake to buy, Chen finds his car has been blocked by another with a bullet hole in the rear windshield.

Slightly unreal tone continues as Chen talks to a one-armed barber (Jack Kao) who owns the offending jalopy and is directed to a third-floor apartment opposite, where two eccentric oldsters, looking after their young granddaughter (Lin Kai-jung), think he is their long-lost son, Ma. Via flashbacks, the audience learns Ma, a security guard, kidnapped his client’s child years ago to pay for his wife’s medical expenses.

Disentangling himself from the apartment, Chen stumbles from one misunderstanding to another as the evening wears on. Other characters include the friendly but mysterious barber, a mainland Chinese hooker (Peggy Tseng) and her pimp (Leon Dai), a nearby tailor (Hong Kong comic Chapman To) and a bunch of gangsters.

Film is almost entirely set within a few square yards of sidewalk, but is peppered with flashbacks that sketch in the characters’ backstories. It plays like a geographically condensed version of the one-thing-leads-to-another yarns of Hong Kong helmer Johnnie To (such as “PTU”) or, more closely, the semi-dreamlike, Chinese-box tales of Taiwanese director Ho Ping (“Wolves Cry Under the Moon,” “The Rules of the Game”).

There’s always the nagging suspicion that Chen, whose own background is only hinted at, may be linked to some of the characters. An upbeat coda ties everything together quite neatly, though pic could equally have ended a reel or so earlier with a deliciously mordant visual gag involving a fish head.

Not the most emotive of actors, Chang handles the main role with a kind of neutral bemusement, while others, like Kao and To, add character flavor, deftly drawn. Noirish lensing by helmer Chung himself is aces, and other tech credits just fine. Fractional tightening by five or 10 minutes would sharpen the black comedy.

Parking

Taiwan

Production

A Cream Film Prod. production. (International sales: Good Films Workshop, Taipei.) Produced by Tseng Shao-chien, Jane H. Hsiao. Directed, written by Chung Mong-hong.

Crew

Camera (color), Chung; editor, Lo Shih-ching; music, Dong An; art director, Chao Shih-hao; sound (Dolby Digital), Du Tuu-chih; assistant director, Lan Ya-ling. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 23, 2008. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Chang Chen, Kwai Lun-mei, Leon Dai, Chapman To, Jack Kao, Peggy Tseng, Lin Kai-jung. (Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese dialogue)

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