“A heartwarming story about movie piracy,” just doesn’t gel well at a film festival where the theatrical experience is the enterprise’s bread and butter. Yet in the case of Sam Voutas’s sophomore directorial feature KING OF PEKING, this tagline fits the story to a tee. Set in late ‘90s China, KING OF PEKING evokes CINEMA PARADISO in its depiction of a country at the cusp of a socio-cultural explosion into a new century of economic prosperity.
Big Wong and Little Wong are a close-knit father-son duo. They travel around in a mobile cinema projecting Hollywood movies for local villagers. When Big Wong’s ex-wife demands he start paying child support, he realizes he may lose custody of his son. In order to raise enough money to stay together, Big Wong takes up a job as a janitor in an old Beijing movie theater. Happening upon an old DVD recorder at a pawnshop, he hatches a plan to raise money to pay for child support and retain custody of Little Wong. Setting up shop in the basement of the theater, Big Wong secretly records movies after hours and the result is the birth of a nascent bootleg DVD empire. At first, Little Wong has a good head for this business, which they name ‘King of Peking.’ But as business booms, Little Wong soon develops a crisis of conscience over the moral and ethical implications of this scheme. Big Wong sees his son’s torment and senses that he may be losing his trust.
Like his first film RED LIGHT REVOLUTON (Festival 2011), director Voutas’ stories capture working-class heroes trying to buck the system, infusing them with inherently Chinese nuances (thanks in part to his many years living and working in China, along with his producer and partner Melanie Ainsley). KING OF PEKING is an ode to cinema that eschews the sappy histrionics often associated with the magic and inspiration of the movies. This gritty take on a movie pirate’s desperate attempt to keep his son brims with inflections of Hollywood movie plots and characters that permeate into their everyday lives. It is an endearing love letter to cinema, but one populated by pedicab drivers, factory workers, fathers and sons.
— Anderson Le
Synopsis written by: Anderson Le