foreign films

Chinaman (Kinamand)
Made in: Denmark
Language: Danish, Chinese (Mandarin)
Director: Henrik Ruben Genz
Starring: Bjarne Henriksen, Vivian Wu, Lin Kun Wu, Charlotte Fich, Paw Henriksen
Year: 2005

Synopsis: Keld (Bjarne Henriksen) is a dull, middle-aged, plumber and former chess prodigy who looks tired all the time. After many years of what is presumed to be a boring marriage, his wife Rie (Charlotte Fich) walks out on him.

Heartbroken and utterly depressed (but not looking much different from before), Keld sells all his possessions and finds himself dining out every night at a nearby Chinese take-out place.

After being noticed as a regular, Keld befriends the restaurant owner Feng (Lin Kun Wu), who runs the business with his family. Keld is then approached by Feng with an unusual proposition.

Keld is asked to marry Feng's sister Ling (Vivian Wu), so she can stay in Denmark with the rest of the family. Once her tourist visa expires, Ling will be forced to return alone to China and face an uncertain future.

In return, Feng offers to pay Keld a large sum of money and have the marriage annulled after Ling obtains permanent residency status. Refusing at first, Keld rethinks the proposal and reluctantly accepts since he'll need the money to pay his divorce settlement. Upon hearing about the arrangement, another restaurant regular gives Keld the nickname "Kinaman," which means "Chinaman" in Danish.

Being unable to communicate with each other (Ling speaks no Danish and Keld doesn't know any Chinese) is the first of many complications that arise, as all does not go according to plan within this marriage of convenience.

Remarks: In Chinaman, the scenes are well shot, the cast is good, and the sequence of events all unfold in a smooth and believable manner. However, this foreign film has some pretty big problems.

First of all, Keld doesn't have much of a character arc. At the beginning of the movie, he's a mild-mannered, droopy-eyed guy who's a little boring but quite nice. At the end, he's still the same mild-mannered, droopy-eyed guy who's a little boring but quite nice. Only now he's had some bad things happen to him, knows a few words in Chinese, and memorized the take-out menu at Feng's restaurant.

This is hardly the type of change that's worth 88 minutes of a viewer's time, and worse yet, Keld's past as a chess champion doesn't even come into play.

For my next comment, I can't really blame the filmmakers. Most of the Chinese spoken in the film is not subtitled, and I suspect this was done deliberately to help the audience identify more closely with Keld and the unusual situation he's about to get into. In other words, it is assumed that you, the viewer, don't know any Chinese.

But incidentally, I happen to know Chinese and this diluted the humor or other intended effects of many important scenes. For me, this is the first time when being able to understand the foreign language spoken in a film actually hurt, not helped, the viewing experience.

The overall storyline had issues as well. In most films where two characters marry so one can get citizenship, or if it's some similar setup where two people pretend or must appear to be married, it's pretty much a given that they'll fall in love for real at some point in the movie.

That formula is fine, but director Henrik Ruben Genz doesn't do anything especially creative with it beyond a few obvious chopstick and egg-roll jokes. And then the movie ends.

Who would like this movie: I'd say that you won't miss much by skipping Chinaman. The cross cultural elements are mildly amusing, but not explored deeply enough. The solid acting implies that there's something more to the story, but sadly, I couldn't figure out what it was.

(2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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