by Matt McCracken Film

Mr. Long | Sabu

July 16, 2019

Defying categorization in nearly every conceivable sense, Japanese director Sabu’s Mr. Long may initially suggest itself as an actioner, if one were to look at its poster or read descriptions of its premise. Long (Chang Chen), a silent assassin for the Taiwanese mob, fails a Tokyo mission and hides out in a small town to recover from injuries sustained on the job. The opening ten minutes of Mr. Long even evoke the likes Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, as Long kills rival gangsters in a savage knife-fight, then moves through the neon-lit streets and architecture of Kaohsiung, all scored and shot esoterically. Yet following the failure of the Tokyo job, Mr. Long’s ambitions balloon immensely, as the film becomes equal parts situational comedy and high-key melodrama. Long slowly accumulates hangers-on, from a young boy (Shô Aoyagi) and his drug-addicted Taiwanese mother (Yi Ti Yao) — who themselves have their own connection to the mafia in Japan — to a largely elderly group of supportive Japanese neighbors, who help Long establish a makeshift noodle shop.

It’s an unconventional mix that might understandably be trying for those who come to the film with the wrong impression, yet Sabu’s command of the material is assured, the comedy coming off appropriately absurd and the melodrama suitably tragic. Regardless, once these distinct tonal registers reach a points of exhaustion, Mr. Long’s initial, genre-adjacent mode returns, and the film delivers a shocking juxtaposition: a conclusive massacre, as the mob finally track down Long and his various acquaintances. For fans of unconventional genre fare — or for anyone who wishes to see Chang Chen give a performance that evokes something of Toshiro Mifune’s Sanjuro by way of Buster Keaton — Mr. Long is just the ticket.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2019.