An assassin haunted by the ghosts of his victims is the tantalizing conceit of The Laundryman (青田街一號), the feature debut by up-and-coming director Lee Chung (李中). There is a bit of everything in this black comedy — from a healthy dose of romance and suspense to abundant action. To top it all off, this boisterous genre concoction is made with sleek production values and an A-list cast.
The Laundryman sets out to win the audience’s heart. While the plot is sometimes uneven, Lee keeps his focus without overstretching the viewer’s credulity, offering a clever exploration on the perennial dichotomy of good and evil.
Joseph Chang (張孝全) plays the laundryman, a hitman who takes orders from A-gu, a femme fatale played by model-turned-actress Sonia Sui (隋棠). By day, A-gu runs a dry-cleaning store. At night, the laundryman brings his completed assignment back to the shop, processes it and washes it out.
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Life for the laundryman revolves around killing and removing bodies. Things follow an orderly routine except for the fact that every day when the man returns home, a group of ghosts wait for him in his claustrophobic apartment. Scared and baffled, he seeks help from Lin Hsiang (Wan Qian, 萬茜), a spirit medium who can communicate with ghosts.
As you can image, the ghosts are the laundryman’s victims, and now they want to know who wanted them dead and why. As the assassin and the medium try to search out the clients, dark secrets emerge, leading to a past that involves A-gu, her psychiatric experiments and her subjects.
The Laundryman works with a number of clever ideas. At the center of the film is the laundry shop, where all the blemishes, filth and troubles in life can be washed away. It tackles the subject of morality, as the assassin learns that he has the freedom to make what he believes to be the right choices.
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Yao Hung-i’s (姚宏易) cinematography further imbues the tale with expressive exuberance. The space inhabited by the characters is fantastic, kaleidoscopic and yet tinged with a sense of closeness that offers no escape.
But the film is never intended to reach the level of poignancy. Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳),who co-wrote the script with Lee Chung, sprinkles the story with his signature sense of humor.
Also with Chen’s input, it comes as no surprise that the film is lively with vividly idiosyncratic characters. Joseph Chang invests in his role a peculiar mixture of vacant calmness and savage innocence, which recalls his performance in Chung Mong-hong’s (鍾孟宏) Soul (失魂) as a man who loses his soul.
Performances by the female leads are equally appealing. Chinese actress Wan shows off a sassy side with a measured dose of playfulness. Meanwhile, Sui does a good job as the embodiment of evil, tempting people to act on their malicious impulses and hateful thoughts.
Supporting actors are mostly strong, including Michael Chang (張少懷), Kao Meng-chieh (高盟傑) and Peggy Tseng (曾珮瑜). In particular, the cameo appearance of producer Lee Lieh (李烈), who co-produces the film, as a beheaded ghost, recalls director Chen’s 2011 short Hippocamp Hair Salon (海馬洗頭), a mystery/black comedy starring Lee Lie and director Ko I-chen (柯一正).
Those curious about the Chinese title of the film, which translates as 1, Qingtian Street (青田街一號), will find the answer in the movie’s climax.
The Laundryman 青田街一號
Directed by: Lee Chung (李中)
Starring: Joseph Chang (張孝全) as the laundryman, Wan Qian (萬茜) as Lin Hsiang, Sonai Sui (隋棠) as A-gu
Running Time: 112 minutes
Language: in Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Taiwan Release: in theaters
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