By Diana Cheng
CALGARY (May 21, 2017) — The maverick Japanese director Sabu (“Miss Zombie”, SIFF, 2014) brings to the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival a mixture of violence and tenderness. A selection in the Asian Crossroads program, “Mr. Long” is a unique blend of ruthless gang wars and the soft boil of noodle cooking. And with that, Sabu narrows in to his characterization, depicting the dual nature of his protagonist.
Long (Chang Chen) is a professional hitman in Taiwan. In one early scene, we see him soak his hands in a bowl to wash off blood after a massive killing, and the next shot we see him wrap dumplings with those hands just as deftly as he kills.
The story then leads to his next assignment in Japan. While there, things go awry. He makes a narrow escape from the vengeful beating by a gang and has to hide out in a small town. Laying low in a derelict dwelling in a deserted part of town, he cooks for himself some soup in the open ground outside. Soon his presence attracts a small boy. Thus, begins a tender relationship between the two. The boy leads him to his mom (Yao Yiti), a drug addict in the firm clasp of the local drug lord.
Instead of the expert knife wielding hitman, Long shows himself to be a master chef of Taiwan noodles freshly made from the dough. The noodle-making talent of this newcomer, hitman incognito, is soon recognized by a group of residents in the neighborhood. They cleaned up the dilapidated dwelling for Long to stay and set up a food cart for him as a Taiwan beef noodle stand.
Not knowing the Japanese language, the speechless Long sees the start up as a good disguise and a source of income to save up for a ship ticket to head back to Taiwan in a week’s time. Sabu is effective in depicting two seemingly incompatible identities in a character, a noodle chef hitman, the killer and the nurturer. With “Mr. Long”, Sabu treats his viewers to savor an interesting mix by offering his version of “Tampopo” (1985).
Playing Long is Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, well known for his many martial arts roles, the most recent being in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin” (2015). For those who are admirers of the Taiwanese auteur Edward Yang, Chang got his acting debut at the tender age of 15 in Yang’s brilliant “A Brighter Summer Day” (1991).
Contributing to the concoction is the deft cinematography. Together with a strong supporting cast of town folks adding to the texture, this fusion of crime thriller and relational drama should whet a variety of viewers’ appetites.
Show times in Seattle on June 2, 8, and 10. Details here https://www.siff.net/festival/mr-long.