Berlinale-Blogger 2017 When a killer becomes a chef: "Mr. Long"

Mr. Long
Mr. Long | Ⓒ 2017 LIVE MAX FILM / LDH PICTURES

In the Japanese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese and German co-production "Mr. Long", the Japanese filmmaker and Berlinale veteran Sabu tells the story of the unexpected bond formed between a Taiwanese hitman and a young boy in Japan.

Mr. Long, a professional hitman from Kaohsiung (Taiwan), is sent to Japan on a contract. When he gets injured and chased by Yakuza, he seeks shelter in an abandoned area inhabited by drug addicts and befriends a young boy and some kind-hearted neighbours. Before he knows it, he has his own stall selling Taiwanese beef noodle soup – and finds in his new profession as a chef that he uses the same knife with the same precision as before.

A gangster befriending a young boy might sound alarmingly similar to Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro, but the beauty of Mr. Long is that Zhang Zhen, who plays Mr. Long, is not just another Takeshi Kitano. Not only is he charismatic and loveable, but despite his cool demeanour he also gives a tour-de-force comical performance. What also distinguishes Mr. Long from Kikujiro is the foreignness of the main characters. Unable to communicate in Japanese, Mr. Long is virtually deaf and mute for most of the film. The cultural clash, miscommunication and wordless exchange of good will is both a farcical and bittersweet insight into the experience of foreignness against the backdrop of a dilapidated community of marginalized individuals who have been shamed and forgotten by society.

Admittedly, the change of tone is at times jarring and the narrative surrounding the female character is problematic. There are also segments which feel like promotional material from the Kaohsiung tourism bureau, especially the lengthy sequences at the night market with its street view full of neon lights and images of mouth-watering food. Despite all this, Mr. Long is still a very enjoyable film to watch. My favourite scene is when Mr. Long’s Japanese neighbours try to cross a busy boulevard in Kaohsiung, where no car ever stops for pedestrians. After failing to cross a couple of times, they end up physically stopping passing cars by pressing their hands on car bonnets. I’m not sure how this scene translates across cultural boundaries, but this subtle and playful comment on the clash of cultures in a situation as simple as crossing a street is in my opinion spot-on and very clever.