It is both his cover and euphemism for what he
does. Ostensibly, he works for a neighborhood laundry service, but he
specializes in removing “stains” from clients’ lives. He is a coolly dispassionate
hitman, with support staff to help with the cleaning. However, he will have to
seek professional help of a different sort when his recent victims start haunting
him in Lee Chung’s The Laundryman (trailer here), which screens during
the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival.
His boss A-gu is the rainmaker and he does the
dirty work. For years, this arrangement has worked for “No. 1, Chingtian
Street.” Yes, that is what he is known as, to the few who know the contract
killer (it is a long story that will be revealed in due time). He leads a
rather solitary life, but that makes it easy for the stunningly beautiful A-gu
to manipulate him. They go way back, in an ambiguous way. When he finds himself
genuinely haunted, she refers him to nightclub psychic Lin Hsiang. Despite her
hipster style, she is legitimate enough to see the abusive self-styled ladies’ man
he just offed and the old couple he whacked before him. However, he has no idea
who the silent young woman ghost is or was.
With Lin’s help, he will track down the
customers who paid for their hits, in order to satisfy their curiosity and hopefully
move them along into the spirit realm. Complicating matters, a sinister party
seems to be trying to thwart them. The resulting chaos also attracts the
attention of a soon to retire police inspector. It gets to the point where a
hitman doesn’t know who to trust.
starts out as a comedy, it gets real serious, real fast. Lee and Chen
Yu-hsun have written a surprisingly complex tale of betrayal and dark secrets
from the past, freely incorporating all kinds of genre elements cafeteria-style.
It is a wild ride, but they keep us safely buckled into the roller coaster.
Rising star Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan has the
perfect brooding physicality for No. 1, Chingtian Street, not unlike his
quietly ominous work in Soul. He also
develops some radically different but equally credible chemistry with Sonia Sui
Tang as the particularly fatal femme fatale A-gu and Wan Qian’s Lin, the increasingly
sober and freaked out party girl psychic. These are not your standard genre
film types, even before Lee thoroughly disrupts their worlds.
Lee fully capitalizes on the cinematic
creepiness of A-gu’s laundry facility, settling into a zone best described as
supernatural noir. Yet, despite the general moodiness (heightened by Yao Hung-i’s
eerie cinematography), he maintains a vigorous pace. Frankly, The Laundryman is exactly the sort of
foreign film that feels ripe for a wildly inferior Hollywood remake, but it
would be especially daunting to follow in Sui’s compulsively scene-stealing
footprints. Highly recommended as a first class supernatural mystery, The Laundryman screens Friday (10/16)
and Tuesday (10/20), as part of this year’s Chicago International Film
Labels: CIFF '15, Ghost movies, Sonia Sui, Taiwanese Cinema