Friday, 13 May 2011

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a slightly odd film directed by John Cassavettes and starring Ben Gazzara. I had rather mixed feelings about it overall, but I'd heard that it is interesting, and that is true, even though there are one or two boring bits.

Ben Gazzara plays a strip club owner, a man who is affable and extremely pleased with himself and also not particularly intelligent. He loves gambling, and having just paid off one gambling debt, he celebrates by taking his three favourite strippers to another gambling den and squandering a large amount of money that he doesn't actually have. The heavies who run the club demand payment in kind – they want him to gun down a Chinese bookie who has plenty of security protection.

At first, our "hero" demurs; he killed people when fighting in the Korean War, but is not naturally violent. In the end, however, he has little choice but to carry out the assignment. He accomplishes it with remarkable ease, to my mind, but I found it surprising that this aspect of the story was treated as relatively insignificant. Much more time is devoted to life in the strip club, and these scenes become rather tedious.

In essence, this film struck me as being a study of a deeply flawed character. Ben Gazzara is excellent, offering a rounded portrayal of someone who could easily seem quite appalling. The plot is slender, though, and I was startled to learn that the original version of the movie was much longer. Cutting it was a good idea, and possibly the cuts should have been more ruthless. All the same, although it is no masterpiece, I thought it was well worth watching.


anthony stemke said...

I enjoy Gazzara and Cassevities in almost everything I've seen. I think if working in a crummy story thet improve it just by virtue of their talent.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this review. Gazzara is a talented actor, but I can see why you thought too much attention was paid to the wrong elements in this movie. Still, it sounds interesting. As always, appreciate your comments.

Martin Edwards said...

Anthony and Margot, thank you. I thought it was worth watching despite the flaws.