Berlinale-Blogger 2017 Can you ever truly escape your past?

Mr Long - Sabu
© Mr Long - Sabu

Mr. Long is a coproduction of Japan/Hong Kong/Taiwan/Germany. The Japanese director Sabu mixes contrasting elements of violence and delicious food with jumps between past and present, depicting a fantastic world where a killer finds a temporary peace through his exchanges with other people, and coincidence and fate return humanity to a lost soul.

Another World

The story is set in downtown Taiwan and opens with a scene of Yakuza talking and a shower of blood. The killer Ron (Chang Chen) has completed an assassination and returns to his hotel, washing the blood off his hands in a bowl of water. He then wraps a small dumpling up which is on the same table.

His next mission is set in Tokyo's Roppongi, and the stage moves to night-time Tokyo. Against a backdrop of Tokyo's skyscrapers and the bright neon of downtown, and the toxicity of the nightclub, we see how Taiwan and Tokyo look similar but are very different. So far, then, a story about the violence-riddled underground.
However, Ron fails this mission.
What! He's failed! It's painful to watch him being beaten by the Yakuza, but in the next moment Ron manages to escape, making the most of an opportunity created by the intervention of Kenji (Aoyagi Sho) who wants to save his lover Lily (Eleven Yao) from the Yakuza.
Wounded, they crawl into a truck, and are spirited away to some rural Japanese town, where Lily is.

 

Meeting Strangers

The movie develops in an unexpected to way, making use feel how the hand of others can lead us in a direction we never considered. It might only be small thing, but connecting with someone else can dramatically change the course of one's life and this chain of events can run on into infinity. Without a single word, a boy gives Ron water, clothes, and vegetables from a field. Ron washes his face in an abandoned house and finally has a chance to take stock. He uses a ladle and pot he finds to start cooking the vegetables. (The mismatch of a killer with a ladle and pot in his hands is a curious sight.) The villagers love his cooking and Ron opens a Taiwanese Ramen shop. His stall is a great success, and the odd circumstances invite laughter from the audience.

Ron and Lily

Is it destiny that leads the characters without them being aware of it? Or was it Kenji's strong love that leads Ron to the the boy's mother Lily? Lily is also trying to shake off a terrible past. The sight of her running as fast as she can through the streets of Tokyo, and her desperately trying to raise her child is both beautiful and sad. Ron and Lily are both desperately trying to escape their past, but neither of them will reveal it. They don't speak, but they understand each other slowly. Former killer, Ron, finds a temporary peace and and begins to soften and Lily's facial expression become gentle, which makes the conclusion to their escape all the more startling.

Relationship Works Because it is Wordless

Words do not intervene in the relationship between Ron and the villagers, Ron does not utter a word against the interference of the villagers, and yet the relationship moves forward (Ron communicates with the boy in Chinese), and Ron and Lily hardly say a word to each other.
It was as if Director Sabu cut out as many lines as possible to let the strength of the cast shine through.
This is Sabu's fifth selection at the Forum and second at the Panorama. It is his second time at the Competition, the first being "Chasuke's Journey" (2015).
Sometimes unexpected encounters take us to an unexpected future. You can feel a common thread of fantasy between "Chasuke's Journey" and "Mr. Long."