Old Stone

OLD STONE, drama, not rated, in Man­darin with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

In the Bi­ble, there’s the story of the Good Sa­mar­i­tan, a passerby who takes pity on a man who’s been beaten and left for dead. “But a cer­tain Sa­mar­i­tan, as he jour­neyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, he had com­pas­sion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pour­ing in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”

(Luke 10:33–34) These days, he’d have a law­suit on his hands. In this bleak tale from Johnny Ma, a thirty-five-year-old Chi­nese-Cana­dian veteran of the fash­ion and fi­nance worlds who makes his fea­ture film di­rec­to­rial de­but here, help­ing an in­jured stranger is the first step on the slip­pery down­hill road to ruin.

When the ti­tle char­ac­ter, a lean, griz­zled cab driver named Lao Shi (Chen Gang), swerves into a mo­tor­cy­clist on a crowded city street in an un­named Chi­nese city, he stays to help. The ac­ci­dent wasn’t his fault; his drunken pas­sen­ger had grabbed his arm, and then left in another cab af­ter the crash. But the vic­tim is badly hurt, and po­lice and am­bu­lance help is ex­cru­ci­at­ingly slow to ar­rive. Lao Shi loads the man into his taxi and takes him to the hos­pi­tal.

Big mis­take. In China these days, the canny driver who hits a pedes­trian then backs up and runs him over a few more times to make sure he’s dead. We hear a news re­port of such a story on Lao Shi’s cab ra­dio in an open­ing scene. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 ar­ti­cle in Slate, this prac­tice has gained enough cur­rency to have en­tered the lan­guage as an adage: “It is bet­ter to hit to kill than to hit and in­jure.”

The on­line fact-check­ing web­site Snopes calls this charge “un­proven,” but Ma draws on it to build a dark and cau­tion­ary tale. Lao Shi finds him­self li­able for the hos­pi­tal bills of the vic­tim, who re­mains in an ex­tended coma. His insurance com­pany turns a cold shoul­der. So do his boss and his wife. The vic­tim’s fam­ily gets in touch, and hits him up for more money. The guy was not a nice per­son, they tell him. It would be best if he died, so they could col­lect the insurance money.

Lao Shi grows in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned, bit­ter, and desperate. Chen con­veys the hope­less­ness and tor­ment of his sit­u­a­tion with a grim panache wor­thy of a John Garfield noir. Most of the story is told in a three-month flash­back to the ac­ci­dent; in the present, we see Lao Shi fol­low­ing a man on a mo­tor­cy­cle through traf­fic, and in the tor­tu­ous third act, we find out why.

Ma cuts pe­ri­od­i­cally to a shot of ev­er­greens in a for­est, their densely packed tops sway­ing in the wind. This could stand for on­look­ers in an im­per­sonal, un­car­ing world. It takes on a more prac­ti­cal em­ploy­ment as the set­ting for the grim fin­ish.

Driver be­ware: Chen Gang

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.