Take Out (2004)

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Take Out
2004, USA
Directed by Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou
Written by Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou
Starring Charles Jang, Jeng-Hua Yu, Wang-Thye Lee, Justin Wan

In the context of film reviews, ‘hypnotic’ often means the critic fell asleep, but got the DVD for free and is trying to be nice. This is why Jean Rollin films keep getting positive notices, and why Jim Jarmusch still makes movies (click here to send the hate mail).

But in the case of Take Out, no more apt adjective exists. And it’s a good thing it applies, because otherwise 90 minutes of a sullen deliveryman carrying around fried rice would seem like the ninth circle of a minimum wage hell.

Ming Ding (Charles Jang) is an illegal Chinese immigrant living in New York. Crippled by the debt incurred getting himself smuggled into the country, Ming finds himself short on his loan payments, and has until the end of the day to raise a seemingly impossible sum. This, the proud Ming plans to accomplish by handling all the deliveries at a Chinese restaurant, normally a two person job, rather than simply borrowing money from friends or spending the day hawking fake D&G purses on Canal Street.

And that’s pretty much the movie. After about 10 minutes of exposition, Ming spends the day, and the film, dropping off bags of salt masquerading as Moo Shu pork. There’s really nothing else to Take Out, which takes the neo-realist approach of The Bicycle Thief and uses it to spotlight a specific aspect of the immigrant experience.

Strangely, while the plot is beyond spare, Take Out is strangely captivating. Perhaps it’s the cross-section of New York’s multiculturalism, the rhythmic, fast-paced editing, or the brain lesions caused by just watching that much MSG desiccate vegetables as they swim in oil. But something about Take Out holds the viewer’s attention despite its minimalism. Certainly Jang’s performance as Ming is part of it, but there’s a great deal to be said for the ability of co-directors/writers Sean Baker and Shih’Ching Tsou to balance simplicity with energy. All in all, Take Out is not the most complex, nor the most elaborately plotted film. But it is a hypnotic one, in the way that keeps you awake the whole way through.

Take Out is available on DVD from Kino International.

Al Kratina

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