Tribeca 2017: King of Peking
In Sam Voutas’s King of Peking, life in 90’s Beijing isn’t easy for most folk—money’s tight, and escapism in entertainment is valuable for its scarcity. The makeshift theater experience Big Wong (Zhao Jun) offers as a traveling projectionist is invaluable, then. The villages and neighborhoods he trucks around to with his son, Little Wong (Wang Naixun, in a smart but not overly precocious performance) garners a lot of attention.
Big Wong knows his audience well, too, and keep the price of admission cheap. He gets by on the ticket sales, but it’s not enough to pay spousal support to his ex-wife. Knowing he has to pay up or lose Little Wong, Big Wong takes a demeaning janitorial position at an established cinema to try to pay her off. It’s still not enough, though—the other staff ridicule him for taking even less than a middle schooler who had the job previously, and the amount his ex-wife is demanding is a number she knows he can’t afford in his wildest dreams.
Happening upon a prototype conversion kit for DVD recording, Big Wong resorts to bootlegging to keep his son in his life. But quickly, that criminal enterprise has him questioning who it is he’s keeping his son around for.
Voutas’s direction keep the affair light, though, sprinkling a love for classic cinema through every scene Big and Little Wong share—referring to each other as Murtaugh and Riggs, they quiz each other on classic film music and even swede scenes from the films they bootleg to better dub them into Chinese for their customers. The real charm of the father-son relationship shines through in these scenes, as you can see the real zeal for film appreciation passing from Big Wong to Little Wong here. The relationship between Jun and Naixun shines in this film, and it’s easy to believe a paternal love between them.
The most heartwarming sequence in the film comes from that love, and from the sweding—Big Wong makes good on a promise to Little Wong he’d put off too long, and puts every resource he has left into making it count. It’s a true testament to Voutas’s script and direction that the sequence and moment land as touchingly as they do, rather than cloying. And it all comes from the motivation of Big Wong to make something of his own, exhibit it to his intended audience, and hope for the best.