Berlinale Blog – Mr. Long: From Switchblade to Kitchen Knife, Japanese Version

     |    Tuesday, der 21. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

Sabu’s “Mr. Long” (Japan 2017) begins somewhere behind the neon lights of a modern Taiwan city, where some members of a criminal gang are surprised by the sudden appearance of a stone faced stealth assassin, who swiftly and methodically takes them out one by one armed only with a knife. Reporting to his boss, Mr. Long cleans the blood off his hands and is sent off to Tokyo for his next kill.

But once in Japan, the hit goes awry, and Mr. Long is caught and taken out to the countryside to be executed. Due to an unexpected interruption – by the appearance of a character who’s true significance is only later revealed – Long is able to escape. He awakes the next morning in some grubby shanty town, minus his passport, money and Comme des Garcons suit, bleeding from a gunshot wound and no understanding of Japanese.

Long is discovered by a little boy, Jun, who as luck would have it has a Taiwanese mother and is able to communicate with him. He brings Long some cast off clothes, and medical supplies – don’t ask from where, his mother turns out to be a junkie, so obviously the kid knows how to fend for himself – and some raw vegetables to eat. This last is the key to the story as Long whips up a tasty soup for himself and the boy. A passing villager has a taste of the soup and invites Long home to cook for him and his friends.

The stone killer is also a master cook? Who knew? With no basis for communication, other than a great dinner, the group of comedy relief neighbors decides to help him go into business. In true Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney fashion – I’m a carpenter; I’m a butcher; I have a vegetable garden! – they set him up with a food cart and find him a spot near the local temple. With a boat to Taiwan leaving on the 30th, Long sees this as the way to pay his passage home.

Long drifts his way through the movie with and expressionless zen-killer-quiet, reminiscent of Alain Delon in “Le Samourai”. Every day he sells noodle soup at the temple. Every evening he counts his money, checks another day off the calender, and then goes about preparing his food for the morning, kneading the dough for his self-made noodles diligently focused on the next task of his survival like Matt Damon in “The Martian”, each step taking him closer to home.

Now let’s face it, from here on the writing is clearly on the wall: we know that Long’s going to bond with the kid, help the pretty junkie mom pull herself together, settle into the new life and let the boat sail without him. And we also know that ultimately someone’s past will catch up with them, and the ax is going to fall and a choreographed bloodbath will ensue.

But personally I don’t think Sabu thought he was fooling anybody. There is a tradition in classical folk drama where the audience goes to the show knowing full well what is going to happen and having a great time watching it unfold. And while the characters are getting redemption up on screen, we the audience, having followed them through the whole journey, find our own redemption when it all plays out.