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Chinese Takeaway - Film Review

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by Louis Fameli (subscribe)
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A heart-warming film about finding happiness
Chinese Takeaway Poster (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)
Chinese Takeaway Poster (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)

Chinese Takeaway is a multi award-winning* comedy from writer/director Sebastian Borensztein, focused on the chance meeting between introverted hardware store owner Roberto (Ricardo Darín, The Secret in Their Eyes) and Jun (Ignacio Huang), a Chinese orphan who does not speak a word of Spanish and is in Buenos Aires to find his uncle, who also happens to be his last living relative. The film chronicles Roberto and Jun's misadventures as they search for Jun's uncle, all while attempting to understand each other despite the language barrier.

Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)
Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)

Viewers first meet Roberto (above right) when he is counting his stock inventory and becoming angry at the fact he has again been short-changed by his supplier. While working, Roberto is visited by some acquaintances (the closest thing he has to friends) that attempt to help him out of his shell, specifically Leonel, who mentions that his sister-in-law Mari (Muriel Santa Ana), a former flame of Roberto, is visiting.

We are given a further glimpse into Roberto's life and it is made clear that he lives steadfastly in his own private world, refusing to buy a computer and constantly adding to his collection of seemingly random news articles (to reveal more about this would spoil the plot).

Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)
Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)

Roberto's life is turned upside down when by chance he sees Jun (above) being robbed and thrown out of a taxi. Upon witnessing this, and after a disastrous trip to a police station where Jun will be imprisoned for no reason, Roberto instead begrudgingly takes Jun in and helps him in the search for his uncle. This act completely alters Roberto's routines and forces him into regular human interaction, something he has not dealt with in a long time.

Also present throughout the film is Mari (pictured below), Roberto's would-be wife, had he not become so closed off to the outside world. Mari makes it abundantly clear she is interested in Roberto, at one stage inviting him and Jun over for dinner and refusing to take no for an answer. She is genuine, warm and plays an active role in helping Jun adjust to his present surroundings.

Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)
Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)

Chinese Takeaway is heart-warming and hilarious in equal parts. While none of Jun's dialogue is subtitled, he shows obvious gratitude toward Roberto for graciously, if not grumpily, helping him in his time of need. Also, we gradually see Roberto grow to enjoy having company, something that not even he truly believed could happen. Meanwhile, watching to the two men attempt to communicate brings laughter as they increasingly use symbols and gestures in an effort to understand one another.

The story moves at a reasonable pace, illustrating to viewers the self-imposed social exile that Roberto has placed himself in, and how Jun's chance arrival has changed this man's life forever. The film also demonstrates how Roberto's communication woes with Jun resemble his seeming inability to communicate with anyone else, even those who speak his language.

Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)
Image from Chinese Takeaway (Supplied by Rialto Distribution)

Each of the leads are marvellous, playing their role without appearing over-the-top or forced. From Darín as the insular and lonely Roberto, to Huang as the shy but eager to assist Jun, and Santa Ana as the well-meaning love interest, each portrays their character without pretence. Viewers will not have to suspend belief to think that Roberto and Mari genuinely care deeply for each other, but simply cannot be together due to his introversion, nor will they find Jun's character difficult to accept as he searches for his uncle.

Final Word: Despite the tragicomedy element in the story, Chinese Takeaway will leave you smiling. It's mixture of soul-searching and lighthearted moments is the perfect combination for moviegoers wanting a tale that will challenge them but at the same time leave them happy about how each character's journey ends.


Another angle: Chinese Takeaway relies on the viewer's willingness to watch a film about character development, most of which is quite insular. Also, there is an element of tragedy to this otherwise positive film. Those looking for a standard romantic comedy would be advised to avoid Chinese Takeaway, as this film may not necessarily agree with your viewing tastes.

Chinese Takeaway will be released in Australia 30 August 2012, rated M

Chinese Takeaway won the Best Film and the Audience Award at the Rome International Film Festival.

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