By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I thought I was in love with the off-kilter rhythms and strange sense of humor of this year’s animated Chinese Coen Bros riff Have a Nice Day…
…but wow is Free and Easy an interesting beast. Small-time cons, cops, public officers, and religious men run into each other in a backwater industrial town time seems to have forgotten, conning, proselytizing, and giving a lot of funny looks.
Free and Easy has just the best kind of bizarre, droll tone, unlike most anything I’ve seen before. Every interaction is just the other side of normal, extremely funny in its straight-faced absurdity if never crossing into outright hilarity. Director Geng Jun seems to have picked a cast almost primarily on how well they can hold a blank stare and how off-puttingly funny and strange their faces look as they do it. I might not be doing the queer charms of this film justice in my description, so I’ll try again- it’s like an arthouse Chinese version of Napoleon Dynamite set in a place even shittier than rural Idaho.
Just imagine it.
Despite the arresting nature of the film’s aesthetics (which include some genuinely beautiful cinematography, by the way), you can’t help but tease out some social commentary in the interplay between travelling salesmen, Buddhist panhandler monks, Christian street preachers, and the lowest-level party officials and small town police. Perhaps the strangeness of the film is meant to mirror the strange fit between an in some ways too fast-growing China and the commerce and religion that have been re-introduced into its previously closed- loop ecosystem.
While it is entirely part of the intent, if not the charm of Free and Easy, this film is slow as molasses, both in plot and, it seems, in the play-out of every single scene. If you’re not on its wavelength and enjoying it within the first 10 minutes, you’re gonna have some trouble.
Free and Easy is an absolutely unique curio of atypical comedic rhythms and intriguingly delivered insight on the modern Chinese mentality.
Free and Easy (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every cigarette lit or smoked
Take a Drink: whenever somebody stares blankly at something
Take a Drink: whenever we see soap or a gun
Do a Shot: for sweet Kung Fu moves