I've struggled with Chinese movies at the last couple of festivals. Not with the quality, not by a long way, more with my ability to relate to them. So a Chinese comedy was something of a bonus this year. King of Peking follows the waxing and waining fortunes of Big Wong and Little Wong. The former a somewhat dubious father figure, the latter his long suffering young son.
The Wongs run a fly by night projectionist service in the Peking suburbs. Little Wong deals with the marketing, that is running around the district shouting about that evening's screening, and the general labour (predominantly putting the chairs out) whilst Big Wong deals with the projection. Tragedy strikes when the explosion that should happen on screen just before the end of the first reel manifests itself in an actual explosion way too early in the reel and very much on the equipment itself rather than the screen. Bereft of his main income stream, things couldn't get much worse for Big Wong until a demand for spousal maintenance arrives from his estranged wife. Ten grand a month or Little Wong is headed off to live with his mother (who happens to live onboard a train she works on).
Inspiration strikes the ever enterprising Big Wong in the form of bootlegging DVDs (having secured himself a caretakers job at a cinema), via Little Wong's ingenuity. The joy of this wonderful movie is a combination of its obvious love of cinema and the central relationship between the two Wongs. Though Big Wong's parenting style is clearly unsustainable (he is barely an adult himself), the two have a wonderfully realised relationship. Big Wong is diligent about his son's attendance at school, though his attention slips somewhat once the DVD business takes off and his son clearly loves the time spent hustling with his father.
The time they spend together in the giants client cinema is particularly joyful. Stealing movies has never being this fun. The ingenious methods the two cook up between them for moving the illicit celluloid around behind the back of the corrupt security guard at the cinema is great to behold and Big Wong's insistence that he is a Projectionist is born out by the care and reverence he has over the machinery and materials he is handling. Even if he is stealing the contents.
Australian born but Peking raised writer / director Sam Voutas does a wonderful job of evoking a particular time and place, seen through the eyes of the enterprising Wongs. This is a charming, lovingly put together movie that does carry some weight with its laughs. If nothing else, King of Peking proves comprehensively that two Wongs do make a right. I'm so very sorry for that. Couldn't resist.