Sly thriller Old Stone hits and runs

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      Starring Chen Gang. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      In China, the consequences of accidental automotive injury are often much more expensive than the cost of outright killing someone with your car, which usually engenders only a one-time payout instead of potential life support.

      Lao Shi, our sort-of hero (played by relative newcomer Chen Gang) here, is a straight-shooting taxi driver who loses everything trying to do the right things after a drunken passenger causes a freak accident. Old Stone begins with our middle-aged driver witnessing somebody else’s roadside auto-da-fé. But this carries him, and us, back three months, when a similar bad thing happened to him.

      In those bygone days, he had a young child and a social-climbing wife (An Nai, who also helped produce the film), plus a shady pal (Wang Hongwei) who kept trying to hip him to how things really go down in the free-for-all economy. But Lao Shi, whose name conjures both honesty and antiquity in Mandarin, just can’t bend to the system even when it threatens to break him.

      Written and directed by the talented Johnny Ma, who has lately been dividing his time between Vancouver and New York City, the movie draws subtle contrasts between old social nets and the new selfishness. But the young director is also a sneaky stylist, moving confidently from a plain, doclike feel to darkly comic noir later on in his flick’s fast-moving 80 minutes.

      By the end, superbly goosed along by an international tech crew, you won’t know whom to root for anymore. Whatever the outcome, or the message, this Stone is thrown remarkably well.