It’s a treat these days for a film to have heart in the old-fashioned sense and to feel a glow when you leave the theater. King of Peking is that kind of film. Which is appropriate, because it is about movies and how they make you feel and about fighting for what you love.
Big Wong (Zhao Jun), a projectionist in China in the 1990s, makes a living travelling from town to town showing third-run American action films to villagers. His son, Little Wong (Wang Naixun), is his assistant…at the expense of his schooling. When Big Wong’s projector breaks, he is forced to take a job as a janitor at a Beijing movie house. His ex-wife insists on an exorbitant amount in spousal payment in order him to keep the child, otherwise she’ll take him away—and possibly make him do his homework. Big Wong is despondent until he discovers a second-hand DVD player, which is new to China, and hits on the idea of pirating movies. This will allow him to pay his wife and keep his son, but it also forces him to use his child as labor.
The relation between Big Wong and Little Wong is key, and here we have two wonderful actors who, in a more enlightened world, would be calling this their breakout movie. Zhao possesses a deadpan expression for the ages as he schemes and shuffles to get by, while Naixun’s Little Wong is wise beyond his years. He’s happy to help his dad because he loves him, until he feels exploited. Director/writer Sam Voutas infuses King of Peking with humor that is martini dry but never overshadows the love the father and son feel for each other. All in all, King of Peking is a winner, full of heart and soul and family friendly.
If you’re in the mood for a feel-good film about women’s suffrage then The Divine Order is it. It takes place in 1971 as momentum builds for a referendum on women’s right to vote in Switzerland. Of course, those voting are all going to be men. The film focuses on one woman, Nora (Marie Leuenberger), who lives in a rural village and starts feeling constrained by her housekeeping duties. She wants to apply for a job. The problem: her husband Hans’s (Max Simonischek) refuses to give his permission. This act opens her eyes to the inequality around her, and she reluctantly and then enthusiastically becomes the figurehead of the burgeoning women’s equality movement in her town.
What follows is a funny, tear jerking, heartwarming movie in the best Hollywood narrative tradition. Sure, it’s predictable. Sure, it’s manipulative, but it’s also massively entertaining. Petra Volpe’s direction is crisp, her screenplay is smart and well-paced, and the acting is superb, particularly Sibylle Brunner, as the elder stateswoman of the village. This film most reminds me of The Full Monty. Both are small films that injected life into banal formulas and beat them at their own game. Here’s hoping The Divine Order does just as well.
It’s somewhat remarkable that someone never took the Fatal Attraction dynamic and focused on the stalker. In slasher films, we are meant to identify with the nameless, faceless killer, but in psycho ex-lover movies, we are always expected to invest in the aggrieved family or individual. Until Nathan Silver’s Thirst Street, that is. And because Silver is a compassionate and unique filmmaker, he makes the film a comedy.
Lindsay Burdge is Gina, a flight attendant who is having a rough time getting over her live-in boyfriend’s suicide. On a layover in Paris, she and her compatriots enter a low-rent burlesque club because, well, they’re in France, and she ends up having a one-night stand with the hangdog bartender Jerome (Damien Bonnard, who looks a bit like a young Donald Sutherland).
That’s enough for Gina to mentally replace her ex with him, move to Paris, and present herself to Jerome as his girlfriend, without actually telling him so, and Jerome, who digs the sex but not much else, is at turns too selfish and too sensitive to tell her he isn’t interested, which only hardens Gina’s resolve. Enter Jerome’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Clemence (Esther Garrel), and you have a situation that is alternately played for laughs, sadness, discomfort, and horror. All of it narrated by Anjelica Huston as if it were a fractured fairytale.
Thirst Street is, of course, about desire. And it can be very sexy, but it is also about miscommunication. Everyone misreads what the audience sees as fairly obvious signals. Gina interprets everything Jerome says to fit her scenario, and Jerome pretty much does the same on his end. As he becomes more irritated, he turns more passive and doesn’t see the psycho coming toward him, though Clemence is pretty quick to pick it up, and the whole story takes place in a country where Gina struggles to comprehend what everyone is saying.
As the tension builds, Silver allows us, for the most part, to react with humor, but he is unafraid to remind us we are watching a seriously disturbed person. So, just as we start to relax, he will pull the rope taut to keep us off-balance. He is aided immeasurably by Burdge, who has the icy tension of Nicole Kidman underneath a pleasant all-American exterior. She grounds Gina as her flights of fancy become increasingly frightening.