Published Jul 22, 2017With his fifth feature film, Geng Jun challenges our shared love of understated humour by pushing dryness to new levels. The result is a film that delivers plenty of lovable characters and winning laughs long as you can keep your attention span in check for its 97 slow-moving minutes.
The film focuses on an icy and remote Chinese town, where we're slowly introduced to a bevvy of interesting characters. Our antihero is Zhiyong Zhang (Yong Ge), an affable con man who traverses the village disguised as a soap salesman. His magic bars, however, cause innocent bystanders to pass out after one sniff, at which point he robs them.
Zhiyong Zhang isn't the only con artist in town, as we soon discover that there are plenty of other grifters traversing the snow-kissed industrial wasteland. Eventually, the con artists' paths cross and they start working together, stacking cash as they rob the town's few inhabitants of their last belongings.
It's far too light on plot to warrant the Fargo comparisons that some have made, but Free and Easy does have plenty in common with American cinema. The film's slow pace, guitar-noodling score and willingness to be weird gives it the feeling of an early Jim Jarmusch film, and its ability to find humour in subtle facial expressions recalls the best of Jared Hess.
Despite the film's unique peculiarities, though, it still succumbs to indie dramedy trappings. For example, there's a trite scene where the two leads vent their frustrations by yelling at the top of their lungs a la Garden State.
The film's few story shortcomings are easily forgiven, however, when you consider the cinematography. Director of photography Wang Weihua fills every wide frame, his perfect lighting rendering the industrial wasteland's hollowed out cars and garbage piles with awe-inspiring beauty.
Free and Easy is perhaps a little too dry for its own good, but if you've got patience, the film offers plenty of quiet quirks and jaw-dropping cinematography as a reward.