It’s not everyday that you enter a town and someone offers to teach you kungfu lessons. This is what happens to Zhang Zhiyong – a conman posing as a soap salesman selling double-scented soap in the middle of winter, in a desolated small town located in Northeastern China.
Other oddball characters join in the league:
– a man pretending to be a Monk, seeking donations to rebuild his temple
– a devoted Christian man searching for his mother
– a forest ranger tying to track down a tree thief
– two local policemen who is not so righteous and somewhat bored at work
This league of extraordinary men brings us on an extraordinary ride, if you can roll with the pace.
One bar of soap stirs up a big fuss in a quiet town and connects all characters together. The deadly bar of soap is nice to smell at first but smell it for a few more seconds and it’ll put you into a deep sleep. Next thing you know, you wake up and find all your belongings missing. That is how Zhang Zhiyong works his way in this small town. Even if you don’t fall for this trick, he’ll make sure you do with his handgun.
Another conman works by pretending to be a monk seeking funds to rebuild his temple which has been destroyed. A comedic exchange happens when he presents an amulet to a man and tells him it is free but donations are highly welcomed. “If it’s free, can I have more for my family?” the man asks. The town is full of conmen, everyone tricks each other and gets tricked. Honesty is not encouraged.
The “soap robberies” soon attract the attention of two local policemen who are obviously bored at work. One forces the other to smell the soap to test its effects. The most innocent figure may be the Christian man searching for his mother who has been missing for seven years. He keeps his hopes alive and goes around pasting notices in hope of finding her again. Perhaps faith is a way to prevent one from falling apart in this poverty stricken town.
When one of the characters suddenly dies, the others are faced with a choice of what to do with his corpse. Human nature is put to a test.
No one is functioning well but they are all trying to survive in their own ways. They are all searching for something, yet they are walking the same old path.
Free and Easy may be a slow film but the scene construction works well to bring out the humor. Dialogue is sparse but each line drives the humor to the point. The film provides insight into life in Northeast China, where economy has been lagging. In an interview, Director Geng Jun reveals that the film is shot in an abandoned industrial site located in his hometown Heilongjiang (黑龙江), which also happens to be part of the Northeast region. The film does leave you thinking for awhile.
Free and Easy is available on Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, as well as DVD and Blu-ray from 15 August 2017. The dark humor in the film awaits you.
if you’ve caught the film and would like to discuss the ending, feel free to drop a message!
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