365 Films in 2017 #1: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Faces Distribution, 1976)

So I made the crazy goal of watching 365 films in 2017 and writing a capsule review of each. My only rules are that I have either not watched the film before or it has been at least five years. I just subscribed to TCM's FilmStruck, a streaming service that will give me plenty of artsy, foreign and independent films to choose from, including many films from The Criterion Collection. I'm also thinking about subscribing to Warner Archive Instant for more classic Hollywood options. I've been meaning to watch more movies for awhile, and Netflix is just not cutting it.

1. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Director's Cut)


John Cassavetes' 1976 crime film starring Ben Gazarra is a quiet triumph. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in atmosphere and shaky hand held camera work. However, the camera work makes for a very personal and idiosyncratic experience. A cabaret owner, Cosmo Vittelli (Gazarra), who has a gambling problem, pays off his final debt to a loan shark (Al Ruban). Mort (Seymour Cassel) offers him an invitation to gamble at the mobster's club. He ends up losing big despite the company of his three favorite dancers. With his new debt, he is charged with killing a Chinese bookie who is actually the boss of the Chinese mafia. Most of the movie is concerned with Vittelli's ruminations about what he has to do, and subsequently, what he does juxtaposed with reserved moments between his staff. Extended performance sequences lend an ambience that reduces the shock of the film's violent action sequences. My favorite moment occurs when Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts) argues that he is more important than the dancers but cannot compete with their nudity. Vittelli's relationship with Rachel (Azizi Johari) and her mother (Virginia Carrington) is also compelling. I highly recommend this film if you like action films but also enjoy character studies of quirky, but rough characters.

 

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