Fantasia Festival 2017: Free and Easy (2016)

Free and Easy (2016)
Director: Jun Geng

Director: Baohe Xue, Benbin Gu, Gang Xu, Liguo Yuan, Xun Zhang, Xuxu Wang, Zhiyong Zhang

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. –IMDB

A peddling monk, a soap salesman, a reforestation ranger: What do these three characters have in common? Add in a God-loving man who is seeking for his disappeared mother, a jack of all trades kung fu instructor and a tough landlady. Throw together two cops who really seem to be both careless and clueless and this creates the mix of a 99 minutes Chinese movie set in desolate area in Northeast China. Free and Easy is an odd piece altogether. Is it trying to be comedic with its dry  humor? Or is it a societal statement about the world we live in pushing those into paths they don’t really choose no matter how good or bad they are? Perhaps, its a crime story when one of the characters die. Just like the story its telling, maybe the genre also steps somewhere in a grey area.

Free and Easy is however an interesting piece of cinema to talk about. With so many characters on screen, we mostly focus on the soap salesman and the monk at the beginning. The cops are the other end of the spectrum as they truly feel useless in their positions or simply bored. They talk constantly about things they probably shouldn’t and then they also take antibiotics like its candy. Not the authorities that we’d imagine them to be. In a community like this one, desolate and forgotten, even the cops are useless, it is a statement on how everyone has their own way to fend for themselves and survive day to day. They are thrown into circumstances that we eventually realize aren’t quite them however, it is all a sense of digging out that part of them that they need to live. The soap salesman and monk eventually have some insightful conversations throughout the movie that truly point us into knowing them more. Just as the reforestation ranger obsesses over who cut down his trees and we start seeing his mellow character go through a myriad of reactions to the situation. However, with the amount of characters here, the focus moves quickly through them. Their personalities, their facades, their conversations, their tricks all come together as what defines this world because we never know any of them well enough to know their history or even their story. We only know what they are now and those few days in this desolate area.

While, Free and Easy slowly progresses its story and it feels disjointed throughout the majority of it and there isn’t really a character to bond with, one of the best aspects is its landscape and cinematography. The way that the director composes their shots, capturing the wide angles and pulled out space. It truly expands on the desolate and emptiness in this area. Perhaps, it also is done to create a parallel for these characters who each have their own issues and all don’t seem to keen about what life they are in now. No one truly seems happy. However, the scenes here truly capture so much atmosphere and is structured carefully to capture exactly what it wants and hides some of the details off screen. One of the best scenes do go to one of the cops confronting four of the characters as they keep moving on and off screen.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to say concretely about Free and Easy. The story needs a little more work particularly for the pace they are going at. The sound design is nice and the cinematography captures so much of the atmosphere and the area despite it being desolate and empty. The characters are plentiful but never fleshed out. The dry humor definitely is there however, it never seemed to work enough although humor is rather subjective. Free and Easy is a statement piece about society, at least from the first watch, it definitely seems to be leaning the most in that direction. Its a lot of reading between the lines and listening to the dialogue and conversations. Its a movie for those that enjoy dry humor, slow-paced and reading between the lines.

Personally, this doesn’t feel like a movie that I was meant to like. I do think for its vagueness in many of the issues, it makes it more thought provoking to figure out what they are trying to say. What message is it all about? I’m honestly kind of in between with this one.

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