Light, but likeable con-man comedy with more potential than punch.
Sucker (available today on DVD or download) stars YouTube sensation, John Luc/MyChonny, veteran British actor, Timothy Spall and exciting newcomer, Lily Sullivan. Based on the award-winning stage show by Lawrence Leung and recipient of the Best Narrative Feature award at the St. Lawrence International Film Festival, Sucker originally premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival. After the success of Leung’s painfully funny, 6-episode series for ABC, Maximum Choppage, this all sounds promising.
Lawrence (Luc) is our Chinese Australian adolescent hero, caught cheating on a math exam and exiled to live with his mildly bizarre uncle over the summer as punishment . Colliding with ‘The Professor’ (Spall) at a suburban chess club sting, Lawrence takes up with the conman and his daughter, Sarah (Sullivan), on a road trip seemingly from nowhere to nowhere in country Victoria, before returning to a rather banal-looking Melbourne for a high-stakes card game where… well… where something happens. I think. I assume we learn something about love. And lying. Or lying about love. Lawrence Leung himself appears in the epilogue and prologue, which is a bit confusing, and there’s almost as much voiceover as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but not as much excitement in the various reveals.
The film is somewhat light on – dramatically, intellectually and, sadly, in terms of laughs. Yet, still, I’d like to encourage you to see it, particularly if you are the parent of an Asian Australian boy between the ages of 13 and 17 (or whatever age good parents now deem it responsible to watch M-rated films), because I’d like to talk to you about it.
You see, I appreciate that my personal preferences might lean towards seeing Lav Diaz’s epic endurance films at the APT8 cinema program, or checking out what the Asian Australian Film Forum and Network have screened. Yet, despite my pompous art-house tastes, there is something that made me feel surprisingly buoyant when watching Sucker. Sure, the acting on the whole is a bit stiff, the writing and direction feels somewhat underwhelming and the ick-factor of the “Badger” scam is probably high enough for the two parents who take my advice and watch Sucker to get really mad at me.
What stayed with me, however, from the point of view of Asian Australian representation, is just how pleasantly middle of the road the whole affair was. Sure, there are some relatively simple representations of Lawrence’s family and the odd awkward Japanese impression, but these are generally affectionate in nature and speak to a second-generation experience that is suburban, stable and relatively rare on our screens. The film notes that Lawrence is Chinese Australian, and despite traipsing about from country pub to country pub, posing as a young couple with the attractive/white Sarah, neither character experiences any overt racism. Australia might be full of weird record store owners, greedy publicans and sleazy conference attendees, but in Sucker, even migrants can become… um… con artists. While the film as a whole is no Japanese Story, Lawrence is also no “sacrificial Asian“. The questions of race are not necessarily foregrounded in a critical or challenging way, but Lawrence’s cultural background and cultural assimilation (his ability to speak Cantonese – or otherwise – features as moment of dramatic tension late in the piece) are at least visible components of the character and, more interestingly, portrayed in a surprisingly positive light.
In contrast, consider the much bigger budget film, The Dressmaker, which combines Kate Winslet’s star-pulling power, impeccable Australian accent, and “cor-blimey” looks for another silly, comedic romp through country Australia that only seemed like it was directed by Baz Luhrmann. In The Dressmaker, a suitable stock-cast of improbably Dad-and-Dave Aussies rollick around flat-pack sets and cultural stereotypes that are so one-dimensional white, I spent the whole film worried there would be a token cue-wearing Chinaman doling out “Eastern Wisdom” to Winslet’s cursed seamstress. “Luckily” for me, there were no characters of colour at all. If this is still filmic Australia, then I’m bored to the brim with it.
So, while no one was quite at their best – we missed the affable, nerdy wonderful of Lawrence Leung’s own standup, the frenetic insanity of Johnny Luc’s skits, and Spall has a far greater range than Sucker required of him – but, somehow, Sucker feels like the sign of good things to come. We’ve been waiting for some time to see an Asian Australian leading man, and Sucker is at least a step in the right direction.
SUCKER is available for download now at suckerthemovie.net or via iTunes.