Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mr. Long (SIFF 2017) - Movie Review

The Movie: Mr. Long

The Director: SABU

The Cast: Chen Chang, Shô Aoyagi, Yiti Yao, Runyin Bai

The Story: Professional hitman Long takes on an assignment in Japan. When things go awry, he has to flee. Badly injured, he takes refuge in a deserted part of a small town.

The Review:
SABU has a history of writing and directing films that are highly stylized and very unique and his latest effort is definitely no exception. After setting up the plot with a fairly straight forward opening act, the director turns things upside down by placing his urban assassin in a run down area of a small village somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo. From there, things take on sort of an abstract, fairy tale quality that is hard to describe yet no less effective. So, we have an injured assassin and a drug addicted young woman brought together by circumstances and tied together by a past that refuses to let either of them go and then throw in a group of oddly comedic neighbors who do everything in their power to turn the mystery man into a successful food cart chef. Yes. Seriously.

Visually, SABU uses a very muted color pallet with splashes of color injected sparingly and in key spots to emphasize specific moments and emotions in the film. The grey tones of the run down neighborhood are a constant reminder that these people are living on the edge of losing what little they have left and also provides a level of intimacy in contrast to the sky scrapers and neon lights that we see in both Taiwan and Tokyo. I really liked how deliberate and intentional every aspect of the film making process is for the director and he manages to get the most out of every single scene and performance.

Chen Chang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) plays the assassin with a calm, smoldering energy that instantly reminds me of Clint Eastwood in his "Man with No Name" roles. The only difference is that Mr. Long only uses a single knife and wields it with the same expertise and intensity as that other assassin who goes by the name John Wick. Even with minimal dialog, he is still able to convey all the emotion and he even provides a fair amount of comedy playing the straight man next to the group of good natured neighbors. but where he shines most is when he paired up with Jun, the young boy in the film played by Runyin Bai.

The unlikely duo provide some of the most heart warming moments from the moment they meet and then all the way to the story's conclusion. I was also very impressed with Yiti Yao who plays Jun's mom as she is also able to deliver a very powerful performance without saying a whole lot. She even gets an extensive flashback scene that helps the audience to understand how she ended up as a homeless drug addict who is literally dependent on her son for survival. It's a heartbreaking story within the overall narrative and Yao delivers an emotional setup that seriously pays off later on in the film.

The Verdict:
Mr. Long is a fantastic movie that I honestly haven't been able to let go of. SABU tells this story in a methodical manner that is a very slow burn yet, by the end, it left me filled with an endless stream of thoughts and emotions. There are so many themes, metaphors, and layers of story that build on top of each other and the end result is just so rewarding.

Mr. Long is an official selection of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

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