Old Stone (2016) - Johnny Ma
Johnny Ma's Old Stone is an angry film, a sociopolitical commentary on the lack of shared empathy in modern China. Scornful towards legal manipulation-fueled bureaucracy which sees a kind-hearted man's life slowly unravel, Old Stone follows Lao Shi, a taxi driver who accidently strikes a pedestrian after an inebriated passenger forces his hand. Opting to save the life of this man instead of waiting for cops to arrive, Lao Shi soon finds himself in a predicament when the insurance company won't cover any of the hospital bills due to him not following company procedure. A film grounded in gritty realism for most of its running time, Johnny Ma's Old Stone is a grating piece of filmmaking, slowly wearing down its central protagonist, Lao Shi, a man who simply wanted to do the right thing. The cost of simply being morally-just becomes so high, with Lao Shi being cheated, now jeopardizing his own' families well-being. One subtle character moment that really gives this character weight comes early in the film, with Lao Chi showing reluctance to even tell his wife about the incident, protective of both her and his daughter's well-being. The silence and calm demeanor of Gang Chen's quiet but devastating performance exhibits a man in a constant state of contemplation, haunted by the situation he finds himself in, where the only way out seems to be through being morally unjust himself. A film that feels like a character study due to its empathetic characterization, Old Stone paints a portrait of a man who is surrounded by individuals who simply don't have the same moral drive, intent on looking out for themselves over all else. There is no grandoise selfish acts in this narrative, only quiet decisions which sees nearly everyone around Lao Shi looking out for their own interests first. HIs own family doesn't want to be dragged down by this potential financial burden, leaving Lao Chi in a place of utter solitude, only having himself to confide in and the hope that empathy and morality of others will eventually shine through. The weight of the world feels thrusted onto Lao Shi towards the end of the film, with the filmmakers' interjecting more expressionistic cinematic techniques, delivering a finale that is a stunning damnation of a system that doesn't place the value of life high enough. Towards the end of the film, Old Stone becomes much more of a thriller, with the quiet introspective moments manifesting a brooding sense of unease. The viewer is left in a state in which they can't help but feel like things are not going to end well for Lao Shi, forced to watch this tragedy unfold in real time. The finale of Old Stone is perhaps best described as a beautiful tragedy, as Lao Chi finds himself freed in a sense from this burden, with his family being taken care of, but at a cost which is simply too high to bare. Some may find the final sequence to be excessive, especially when compared to what comes before it, but it emphatically expresses the film's intentions, doing so in a poetic, yet angry way. A film with a quiet, brooding sense of unease, Johnny Ma's Old Stone is a powerful tale of shakesperian proportions, finding a kind, empathetic man slowly run down by a system which indirectly punishes him for doing what is morally just.
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