The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

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Image from The Killing of a Chinese BookieFrom a story developed with Martin Scorcese, Cassavetes tackles (and comments on) the film noir genre. Cosmo, a club owner in heavy debt, is pressured into committing the title act to pay off the mob. Note: according to Ray Carney, two versions of Killing of a Chinese Bookie exist: a 1976 edit (135 minutes) and a 1978 edit (108 minutes). Both, Carney says, are of equal interest. Stars Ben Gazzara.

REVIEWS

Bookie: Martin Doudoroff from New York, NY USA This film is another of Cassavetes' best. Like the others in this Pioneer series, the DVD is merely adequate: it delivers the picture and sound. Likewise, Ray Carney provides a brief analytical essay in the insert that should be useful to anyone not familiar with Cassavetes' film art. We're lucky to have this film available in any form, so there's not much more to say!


A deep dark tourtured journey into Cassavetes' psyche. Ray Carney is the only critic who seems to understand the darkness, the mystery of this film. His contrast between the fake mysteries of Citizen Kane (which he calls mystification) and the real mysteries of this film in his Cambridge book, The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies, is nothing less than brilliant (and devastating to Welles's Kane).

Also check out Carney's books for an account of the differences between the two versions of The killing of a chinese Bookie. He may be the only person in the world who has seen both. Cassavetes presented him with 35mm prints of each before he died.


A strange, strange little movie; shot " cinema verite, " often utilizing a hand held camera, and murky lighting. Due to the resultant disorientation from the documentary like directorial techniques, and the script's rather unorthodox concepts, I wasn't quite sure what to make of CHINESE BOOKIE. But it's all so unique, appreciation is the only possible response (for me, least) to this film. There just isn't anything remotely like it. If you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to do so. - John Fiero


This film works on a number of levels that challenge the viewer. On the one hand, the cinema-verite technique of the visuals, reminiscent of Raoul Coutard ("Breathless"), really dials us into the life of Cosmo. Cassavetes delivers him as he is: a freewheeling, caring guy trying to make his nightclub a go without exploiting the girls who work for him. On the other, the plot, a meandering set of tableaus that toy with cliché but never give into them, gives the viewer an opportunity to escape the authoritarian conventions of mainstream cinema. Cassavetes isn't worried about masking real time precisely because his characters come to life in it. One of the finest "organic" films ever made; a seemingly naturally paced film about real people bracketed by the aesthetic codes of the film noir genre. Very impressive.

Timothy Dugdale
dugdale@uwindsor.ca

You gotta see this movie, OK? I promise you, you are not going to see this, a movie like this, you know? Ben Gazzarra in this movie...a hell of an actor. A performance that is, my god! I can't, I don't...he is one hell of a performer. Oh, he plays the owner of a strip joint. These hoods come after him for a gambling debt, which is, you know, that's one thing, but finally they want him to kill this guy, this old chinese guy. That's how it goes. A fantastic film! I'm serious about this, OK?
John Cassavetes' 1976 film, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie stars Ben Gazzara as Cosmo, a small-time L.A. strip-club owner in big-time hock to local mobsters, who will cancel his gambling debts if he kills the bookmaker of the title. Although a Korean War combat veteran, Cosmo isn't a professional killer and botches the job. He is seriously injured himself and has quickly set in motion a series of violent events from which he cannot escape. Although not considered a "great" film by conventional standards, director Cassavetes effectively depicts the interlocking netherworlds of strip clubs, gambling and organized crime, and how our society nervously coexists with them. His novel, unconstrained approach, filled with sharp plot twists and sustained by a meandering, cinema verite-like storyline provides a startlingly accurate portrayal of how the "wiseguys" who own Cosmo's life conduct business; obscure, whispered half-sentences, endlessly interspersed with profanity, near-maddening subject changes and seeming irrelevancies; usually done late at night in cars, diners, dim restaurants and clubs, where the violence central to that way of life is strangely peripheral but fitfully inevitable, sometimes unplanned and usually far more trouble than it's ever worth. Los Angeles is depicted as an annoying, garish backdrop, something to be tolerated, like Gazzara tolerates his marginal, emotionally stunted strippers, a strange, corpulent version of a Joel Grey-like MC and the tawdry, depressing aura of his club's surroundings; each scene swathed in the persistent indifference of a big city's neverending everyday sounds. Cassavetes makes good use of shadowy indirect closeups and slightly blurred, off-center imagery blended with an endless stream of conversation which seems to mean all but nothing but is somehow essential to daily survival, even in a world perched on the fringes of respectability and legality.
It is a film that should be experienced and not analyzed, summed up, and stuffed into a clever, pretty little box.
Matthew Brenton
aaa603@thezone.net

My name is Haji, I am the girl in the center of the picture. John was a wonderful man, I was the only one he let come to dailies. He was also a gentleman,(married). He was going to cast me again, and then he died. He was a great man to work for , kind and decent. www.fasterpussycathaji.com
Another unendurable slab of Cassevetes pretentiousness, why he went on trying in the face 25 years of public indifference is beyond imagining. - Leslie Haliwell
What a....strange, yet capticating film! Cassavetes was an actor's director. This was where he left his mark. He knew when and where his actors shoudl always be throughout the film. He knew what to do, to convey the appropraite message to the viewer. What is the message of this film? Sadness. Living a life that has no substance, yet still tricking yourself into believing it is fun and fantastic. This film is a great film to watch because you understand that great camerawork and lighting are not needed for a film to be great. Most surely will not care for this film because it will be like nothing they have ever seen before, especially in today's commercialistic world. But...you appreicate film more after watching this. There is a greater latitude for film created after watching this film. You'll understand what I mean when you see this movie. If not, then oh well. - Grant McFadden
The Killing of A Chinese Bookie is his most challenging film,but also a very complex and rewarding film.It has some short comings,because it must have been hard to make with such a small budget.There are definitely moments that suggest John cassavetes in full form,so all things considered I think everybody into filmmaking or just viewing should go out and rent it.
I haven't seen all of Mr. Cassavetes' films, but this one is one of my favorites. Only John could take on the trappings of b-movie gangster noir and explode it from the inside out with the non-characters, non-dialog and non-story he is known for. This is a great movie for Ben Gazarra's performance alone.-Joe
Seeing this movie as the only customer in a Brighton cinema made me appreciate all the more its edgy properties. The reason it works as an abrupt departure from the crime genre it echoes is is distance from the mechanics and aesthetics of illicit activity. Think of the way the Godfather a few years before had walked viewers through the workings of an assassination, to great fascination. In contrast, the build-up to the title act is disjointed and confusing, which is more or less how the protagonist would encounter it. - Graham Barnfield, magnesium_films@hotmail.com

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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.