The newest indie film, Take Out, about an undocumented Chinese worker and his struggle to make ends meet, is proof positive that telling a good story is far more crucial to the success of a film than props, set design, or even quality of film used. Shot entirely on a digital hand-held camera, writers and directors Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou have made Take Out‘ a winning combination of perfectly sparse writing and powerful acting.
Relatively new to the US, Ming Ding, a delivery boy for a divey New York Chinese restaurant, owes a loan shark a lot of money. He borrowed it to send back home to the family he left behind so they could pay back the debt they incurred in paying his way to the US. The shark deploys thugs to demand $800 toward the debt by nightfall or else the debt will be doubled. Ming Ding goes to work bruised from a beating and depressed. His jovial friend Young, played by Jeng-Hua Yu, who it seems has been smarter about getting into dicey debts, offers to help him with some cash and his share of the deliveries on a very rainy day the Big Apple.
The deliveries that Ming makes, and the various customers’ reactions are just as interesting as the story itself. On full display is New York’s racial and class diversity, complete with a smattering of racist behavior toward the stoic and monosyllabic Chinese immigrant who hides well his desperation for the tips he’s counting on. What actor Charles Jang, who plays Ming, does not say in words, is made tangible by the slump of his shoulders, and the grim set of his jaws. When a customer fails to tip, the viewer can’t help but take it personally.
This day in the life of Ming Ding captured in Take Out exposes how little most of us think of the daily travails and struggles of migrant labor. What makes Take Out exceptionally powerful is the quiet determination of Ming, who refuses to expose his dilemma except to his close friend, and even then he does it reluctantly. The more experienced immigrant workers in the restaurant’s kitchen pitch in to help their brother – they know full well the pain, fear, and desperation he is going through.
Despite the clearly depressing premise, Take Out has its moments of humor, particularly from Ming’s friend Young, who appears nonchalant about the kindness he has bestowed on his friend. Young loiters in the kitchen of the grimy restaurant – a setting as real as most of the actors and even customers – and ribs his fellow employees. He plans to own a restaurant in six years, like the owner of the one he works at – a middle aged Chinese woman known only as “Big Sister.”
Take Out’s only real downside is the severe motion sickness it can provoke in some theater-goers (like me), whose brains respond negatively to a constantly jerking camera (think “Blair Witch Project” set in the daytime rainy bustle of New York).
While Take Out ultimately falls prey to a cliched twist near the end, it defies the temptation to perpetuate the myth that in the US, the hard work and perseverance of immigrant workers is always rewarded with a slice of the American dream. Ming says he sometimes wonders why he had come to the US at all. Seeing how his hard labor is exploited to uphold an American lifestyle that includes cheap Chinese food delivery on whim, we wonder why immigrants endure such a life. And then, perhaps, we take them less for granted.
More information about the film at: www.takeoutthefilm.com.