Chinese Take-Away follows the journey of a total stranger who lands in Argentina and accidently finds himself living with a solitary middle-aged man. Needless to say, one major obstacle is a language barrier.
Grumpy Roberto (Ricardo Darin) finds a disoriented young Jun (Ignacio Huang), who has come from China, roaming the streets to find his uncle. In a rare charitable moment, Roberto decides to give this fumbling foreigner a lift. But Jun’s uncle has already moved from the given address, and the newcomer can’t make his way through the city. Roberto offers to let him stay over for the night.
The two characters, opposites in their lifestyles, now live under the same roof. Roberto runs a hardware store and spends his time counting screws and screaming at the suppliers. His dull routine includes buying glass animals on a yearly basis as a memorial gift to his dead mother and collecting newspaper clippings of bizarre stories that serve to reinforce his view that life is, above all, absurd.
In contrast, Jun’s lively nature and handy services in the house compensate for him being utterly lost in translation with this stubborn old man. Even though his speech (which is not subtitled) is incomprehensible to non-Chinese-speaking audiences, he gains our heartfelt sympathy.
The setting-up of the two protagonists with starkly different personalities tells us more about Roberto than Jun. The story, which shows the pair aiming for a common solution (at least in parts), also shows that Roberto wears a mask of hostility, refusing to let people into and emotions out of the glass house in which he lives. But the reality is, he’s as fragile as the miniatures he collects. Even his former love Mari (Muriel Santa Ana) was something of a lost cause, trying and failing to get him back.
The narrative gets more engaging as the content of Roberto’s carefully collected newspaper cuttings is revealed. The film bounces between two realities: the new, somewhat reluctant friendship in development and the news articles that come to life via Roberto’s imagination. We laugh at the ludicrousness of their situations—at one point cows fall from the sky onto a woman about to receive her engagement ring.
Roberto’s personality, as he constantly tries to get rid of his Chinese “guest,” receives a thorough and vivacious boost with Jun around, often becoming animated by his presence. It proves the denial of his alter ego. He wants to remain in the past and in other people’s stories—until, that is, one turns up on his doorstep.
The film is not necessarily a film about the situation of expatriates in modern-day Argentina, nor is it a shallow interpretation of a complex situation that gives way to humor. It’s an absurd journey, rife at times with cynicism, provoking us to read into signs and hope for a mysterious intervention.
The Argentine director of Chinese Take-Away, Sebastian Borensztein, has combined carefully a creative plot with an excellent cast. His film, a heart-warming experience, peppered with a wake-up call for those who take life too seriously, is much tastier and fulfilling than a Chinese takeaway.
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