When they're noticed at all, the anonymous men who race around New York City delivering Chinese food are usually thought of as necessary nuisances who litter hallways with take-out menus and endanger pedestrians by riding their bicycles on crowded sidewalks. After watching this artful and deeply moving film from writers/directors Sean Baker and Shih-Ching...read more
When they're noticed at all, the anonymous men who race around New York City delivering Chinese food are usually thought of as necessary nuisances who litter hallways with take-out menus and endanger pedestrians by riding their bicycles on crowded sidewalks. After watching this artful and deeply moving film from writers/directors Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou, that misperception will undoubtedly change -- a rare accomplishment for a rare kind of film.
Like a lot of recent Chinese arrivals in New York City, Ming Ding (Charles Jang) came to the U.S. in hopes of making enough money to support his wife and young son back home, but after six months his new world doesn't look very much like the Land of Opportunity. Ming Ding lives in a crowded, roach infested apartment with other undocumented Chinese workers who have been also smuggled into the country (Ming came in through Canada), and works for tips as a deliveryman for a Manhattan Chinese takeout run by a tough cookie named Big Sister (Wang-Thye Lee). In order to pay off his family's debt to his smugglers, Ming borrowed the full amount from a loan shark at an exorbitant 30 percent interest; he's now deeply in debt and only getting in deeper with each missed payment. Awoken one drizzly morning by a pair of hammer-wielding thugs, Ming is reminded of what he owes, and is given until the end of the day to come up with an $800 payment. Ming is able to borrow $500 from a cousin (Eva Huang) who works in a sweatshop and another $150 from Young (Jeng-Hua Yu), a fellow deliveryman at the takeout who, after nearly 5 years, has almost paid off his own debt. In order to help him earn the rest -- the most Ming has ever earned on a single day is $90 -- Young offers to let Ming make all his deliveries, and thus begins an exhausting day that sees Ming racing back and forth from the bustling restaurant to the apartments of different people who treat him with varying degrees of indifference. Some leave a decent tip, others ask for exact change and leave him nothing. As the long day wears on and the light rain turns to a downpour, Ming's goal seems increasingly far away.
While taking a cue from the Italian Neorealists who explored the social reality of their troubled, war-torn time with a semi-documentary style and non-professional actors, Baker and Tsou join the ranks of more contemporary filmmakers like David Riker (LA CIUDAD: THE CITY), Ramin Bahrani (MAN PUSH CART, CHOP SHOP) and Christopher Zalla (SANGRE DE MI SANGRE) who are taking a close, much needed look at the lives -- and important work -- of so-called "illegals." Korean-American actor Jang carries a convincing gravitas as the exhausted Ming, but the real star of the show is arguably Lee, a real-life manager of a New York City takeaway. As Big Sister, she's a firecracker who brings life, light and considerable humor to the deadly serious subject.
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