Rehabilitating the hitman with Japanese kindness, Sabu’s Mr Long flickers between moments of splendour, kitsch and sentimentality.
The Last Samuraiby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Co-produced by Taiwan and Japan, Sabu’s Mr Long makes the best of its dual heritage, with its story of silent killer Long (Chen Chang) who finds himself accidentally becoming a father when his hit in Tokyo goes wrong. Travelling through the bright lights, streets and alleyways of Kaohsiung, we’re channelled into the cellar of a temple, where Long deftly (and somewhat ridiculously) carries out his first multipronged attack. Lingering over its lanterns and ornamentation, however, the temple becomes a metaphor for new life, repeated throughout the film. Heading over to Japan however, Sabu’s film changes tone – as Long rebuilds his life in an abandoned house after being stabbed by the yakuza and having his passport stolen.
Here, he befriends a Taiwanese boy and – once word gets around about his cooking skills – a whole neighbourhood of kindly folk come fix up his home and build him a ramen street cart. Welcomed by the Japanese, Long’s life turns over a new leaf, with the possibility a new love and the beginnings of a new family. But with flashbacks from all perspectives and a hotchpotch of genres, Mr Long is all over the place in both dialogue and tone – simultaneously romantic melodrama, hitman blockbuster and family drama. And with a troupe of kabuki actors, miming and grimacing in all their roles, Mr Long delivers an intentionally artificial experience. Its story of reform is neither profound nor affecting, but with its broadstroke story and performances, with Mr Long Sabu serves up a chewy kind of fusion.
Mr Long is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival