Sundance 2017: Free and Easy
Jun Geng’s Free and Easy tells the tale of an economically depressed and seemingly, mostly forgotten, northeast Chinese town, and the different grifters whose lots get thrown in together by circumstance or force of personality. Free and Easy’s story plays out akin to a Coen Brothers film: everyone’s got some kind of hustle, even the well-meaning. Also, like a film from the Coens, sooner or later there’s a body to deal with.
The script, by Liu Bing Feng and Yuha Geng Jun, gives each character caught up in this mess time to show their individual quirks and to let their guards down, and that’s needed for a story like this to work. While it is at its heart a story of confidence men and their marks, it’s also a story about scraping by any way you can, and how the influence of modernization and ultimately, capitalism, has left the rural parts of China behind.
Zhang Zhiyong’s character, with the same name, presents himself as a traveling salesman, both a smart cover for his con and a slight swipe at a culture of consumerism coming to exploit the far reaches of China. There’s also a theme through the tale about religion doing the same, providing false hope for the true believer and presents another front for a con for the well-positioned, in the faux monk character’s con. That the film can make us sympathize with these characters despite their actions is a testament to the work on display.
And the film displays that work beautifully, with Wang Weihua’s cinematography never shying from the dilapidated nature of the town’s crumbling infrastructure, even pausing on long-forgotten personal items left in the street. But Weihua’s eye finds the beauty in such things and frames them very well.
At time of this writing, Free and Easy does not have US distribution secured.