Audiences might not know that they wanted to see a film about a violent Taiwanese hitman who becomes a noodle chef in Japan until it’s unveiled in front of them. It’s not as though Long (Chen Chang) seems to have an affinity for violence. He just happens to be very good at it. Dispatched from Taiwan to Japan to carry out a job that could not be described as a success, he escapes and finds himself sleeping rough on the outskirts of Tokyo. He is befriended by young Jun (Runyin Bai), who lives with his junkie mother Lily (Yiti Yao). He ends up cooking a meal for a neighbourhood resident, his cooking abilities are discovered, and with cheerful forcefulness, the entire community makes him set up a noodle stand.
Mr Long artfully switches moods, and arguably even genres. It can be cute and tender and then brutally violent, even within the space of a single scene. Some might find this effect a little distracting, and yet it’s a seamless transition instead of a rough shunt. Long has excelled in a specialised, dangerous, and isolationist field. This sense of isolation carries through to his new, accidental life in Japan. He’s a stranger in a strange land, and has to trust people, to simply go with it, since he doesn’t even speak Japanese. Chang’s minimalist performance is not without emotion, and also demonstrates Long’s vague sense of bewilderment at his circumstances. There is no soppy tale of redemption here, because that would be too conformist for Mr Long.
It’s not giving anything away to state that Long’s previous life comes looking for him, because even hard to pin down films need to adhere to a narrative that works for them. The shots of Long the hitman gracefully hacking off fingers and slicing jugulars is balanced with later shots of him using his knife to create erotically delicious-looking food. It’s like the two sides of the same knife. Chang might have benefitted from some training for the cooking scenes, however, since an arthritic grandmother can chop vegetables more quickly. Mr Long is energetic and stylish, which makes it all the more pleasing that it also has a heart.
Mr Long does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.