Kei Chikaura’s joint Chinese-Japanese effort provides an insightful look into what it means to be an outsider. In Chen Liang, Chikaura has created a character that, although he may act in ways you wouldn’t, is sympathetic and relatable, with struggles that feel genuine.
Liang (played with sincerity by Lu Yulai) has left his native China to pursue opportunity and fortune in Japan as an illegal immigrant. His ailing mother and tough grandmother would prefer Liang makes something of himself at home, and be on stand-by for his mother’s healthcare needs. Liang tells the first of many lies by reassuring his family that he has become a mechanic’s apprentice in Japan and is learning many useful skills to reignite his departed dad’s former auto shop. Instead, Liang is unemployed and becoming increasingly desperate to make his family proud and to make ends meet (perhaps in that order).
Liang comes across a phone where constant calls are being made to the previous owner, telling this person that there’s a job opportunity for him working at a soba restaurant, under its illustrious master chef (played by Tatsuya Fuji). Liang starts to entrap himself by claiming to be the phone’s rightful owner in order to get the job.
What I immediately appreciated about this film is that Liang is as sweet as a guy as you could want, despite engaging in duplicitous activity (a better name for this film would be Duplicity, in my opinion). He’s eager to do well at the soba restaurant, and his training is akin to all of our trainings whenever we start a new job. His mistakes and forgetfulness are taken in stride by the master chef and his daughter, who patiently coach him to do better. I appreciated that Liang’s employer was not a cruel tutor, but rather a passionate and earnest man perhaps looking for a son.
Which makes the fact that our protagonist is living a lie even more painful. The conclusion of this film leaves it open to a sequel, since Liang has a number of concerning issues to address (ID is one such issue). Despite the lack of resolution, time spent with Liang as he tries to make something of himself in a foreign country, is time well spent.