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D: Sam Voutas / 88m

Cast: Zhao Jun, Wang Naixun, Han Qing, Si Chao, Geng Bowen, Yi Long, Zhou Min, Cao Maishun, Feng Lishan, Fan Chengxin, Qin Yi, Zheng Zhongli

The Wongs – father Big Wong (Zhao) and young son Little Wong (Wang) – make something of a living showing old movies to whomever they can attract. Travelling round with an old, rickety projector and a large white sheet, they advertise the latest action romance Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s never the case (one punter says he’s already got one of their movies on DVD). When the projector catches fire at a showing, the Wongs’ livelihood seems over. Further troubles come in the form of Little Wong’s mother (from whom Big Wong is divorced), who wants monthly alimony payments that just aren’t affordable. There’s something of a custody battle going on as well, which Big Wong is on the verge of losing if he continues to exploit his son (who shouldn’t be working with him). Big Wong, despite being an experienced projectionist, can only get a job as the janitor at a local cinema. The money isn’t enough – until one day, Big Wong hits on the idea of copying the movies shown at the cinema onto DVD and selling them, a development that causes the beginning of a rift between him and his son…

An unlikely storyline for a movie perhaps – our heroes make pirate copies of Hollywood movies, and are sympathetic throughout – King of Peking isn’t so much about the issues of piracy and blatant copyright infringement (or what effects it may or may not have on Hollywood’s bottom line), but on the relationship between a selfish yet determined father who wants to do his best for his son, even if the means are inherently compromised, and a son who slowly begins to realise that those same means benefit his father more than himself. The inevitable rift that develops between them is handled with a sincerity, and a salutary nature, that is made all the more credible by the ways in which the script – by writer/director Voutas – keeps the viewer on both characters’ side, and allows us to understand the motivations of each. Big Wong is always looking to get ahead, and recognises that his son is a big part of being successful; he knows how valuable the boy is in making their fortune. Sadly, that’s all he sees, and not the disappointment Little Wong experiences at being his father’s junior partner, and not his son.

With the story being told as an extended flashback – a narrator guides us through events that take place in Beijing in the Nineties – the movie has a nostalgic feel to it that is augmented by the Wongs’ small-scale though lucrative attempts at movie piracy, a reflection on a time when piracy was in its infancy and not the all-pervading, and financially ruinous, menace that the major studios would have us now believe. Voutas is careful to ensure that there’s no interference from any gangs or the authorities that would complicate matters, and instead uses the internal strife that grows between father and son to provide the necessary drama of the movie’s final third. As the ever determined Wongs (though for different reasons), both Zhao and Wang are a terrific double act, making their characters as stubborn and headstrong as each other, while also making it clear that their relationship is much stronger than any problems they might face, even when on opposing sides of an argument. There’s good support from the rest of the cast – Geng’s officious security guard stands out – and Voutas ensures that the story never runs out of steam or feels strained.

Rating: 7/10 – a small-scale comedy-drama that’s simply done, and which is all the better for it, King of Peking uses its simplicity of style to tell an engaging and likeable story; with Voutas gaining in confidence with each new feature, this is his most assured and most accomplished movie to date.