Chinese Take-Away eschews predictability
Starring Ricardo Darín and Ignacio Huang. In Spanish with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, January 4, at the Vancity Theatre
In Argentina, where this amiable domestic dramedy was a huge hit last year, A Chinese Tale (Chinese Take-Away’s original title, translated) is a euphemism for what we call a tall tale: something that may or not be true but still beggars the imagination. Middle-aged Roberto (played by Ricardo Darín, the country’s best-known actor) is a lonely, quietly bitter Buenos Aires shopkeeper whose hobby is collecting newspaper clippings of such unlikely happenings around the world. (Stay for the credits to see what inspired this unlikely Tale.)
One day, while watching planes go to places he’ll never see, Roberto collects a real-life Chinese tale in the form of newly landed Jun (Ignacio Huang), a youngster who speaks not a word of Spanish and has an address (rather creepily) tattooed on his arm. Jun’s immigrant uncle used to live at that spot, and subsequent trips to the Chinese embassy, a local Chinatown, and, finally, a police station—with its hints of Argentina’s fascist past—leave only one option.
Running his late father’s dusty hardware store and combing old newspapers for those believe-it-or-not stories, Roberto likes his routines undisturbed. Even visits from a cheerful out-of-towner (Muriel Santa Ana), clearly smitten with Roberto, cannot shake his preference for habit over adventure. So a round-faced foreigner with a tendency toward crying jags is not his ideal houseguest.
This setup tells us that the cynic will eventually warm to his challenge, but nothing else (aside from mild hints of paternalism) in Chinese Take-Away is predictable. Ultimately, it is Darín, charismatic star of such winners as Nine Queens and The Secret in Their Eyes, who gives the film a quiet gravity you remember when the chuckles die down.