Chinese Dinner

Original title
Chainizu Dina
Japanese title
  • チャイニーズ・ディナー
Running time
78 minutes
12 May 2003
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Like his recent low-profile festival stunner 2LDK, Yukihiko Tsutsumi's Chinese Dinner essentially revolves around two people in one room. A setting that is much maligned for being either too theatrical or the situation of choice for untalented film students, in the hands of this particular director it quite successfully transcends its own limitations.

This is not to say that Chinese Dinner is an undivided success. Tsutsumi manages to make the most of his self-imposed restrictions, but the end result resembles a good, if derivative, first-time effort more than the work of a director with over a decade of experience.

In his private dining room, a mob-connected restaurateur sits down for a sumptuous meal, served to him in several courses by his silent Chinese waitress. But just as he is about to take the first bite of his appetiser he notices that there is another person in the room with him. From out of a shadowy corner of the room emerges a black-clad hitman, gun in hand. The intruder sits down at the table opposite him, but instead of pulling the trigger, he quietly taunts his target to guess his identity and his purpose. Gradually, we learn more about the restaurateur and he learns more about the man in black opposite him. Or so he thinks.

Chinese Dinner's screenplay is halfway between gangster movie cliché and careful build-up of character. We get to know the protagonist through his own words: as he searches for reasons for the hitman's presence, he reveals more and more about himself and in particular about his underworld connections and activities. It's this approach to character that is the film's strongest point, and what keeps it moving. The visual aspect of the film mirrors the script's split personality, with Tsutsumi using details and close-up to move the story along and tell us more about the characters, but at the same time resorting to tired gun-toting poses or flashy visuals whenever he fears the audience is getting bored with the limitd set-up.

Tsutsumi allegedly made Chinese Dinner as an escape from the elaborate and commerce-driven productions with which he is normally associated, including TV series like The Files of Young Kindaichi and Keizoku, as well as their big screen adaptations. Unfortunately, it fails where his later 2LDK succeeded: in combining self-imposed limitations with inventiveness and creativity.

At 78 minutes Chinese Dinner knows exactly how far to take its simple premise, but as a whole it's not nearly as hefty as the sumptuous dishes it presents on screen (which, incidentally, are all listed in the closing credits as cast members). More a tastefully decorated starter than a full-course meal, in other words.