2005 Melbourne International Film Festival : Public Toilet (2002)

2nd August 2005

Director: Fruit Chan
Starring: Tsuyoshi Abe, Ma Zhe, Hyuk Jang, In-seong Jo, Yang-hie Kim, Jo Kuk, Sam Lee

Tagline: Whistle while you pee

In this very strange and endearing movie we see everyday life through the experiences of people using public toilets in several countries including China, India, Korea and New York.

The stories flow into each other and cross over several times and we learn how the main characters are related over the course of the movie. I liked how everything seemed very natural with people fluffing their lines on occasion and it deliberately being left in by the director.

The first character we meet is Dong Dong (Tsuyoshi Abe) who is called “God of Toilets” after an old woman finds him as a baby in a public toilet in Beijing (she actually pulls him out of the toilet pit, thankfully, a plastic baby is used for this scene.) Over the years he grows up, living right next to the toilet and making friends with the children of foreign nationals living in the city.

In the next story we meet Kim (Hyuk Jang from Volcano High), who is a young fisherman from Korea who meets a mermaid (Yang-hie Kim) one day when she climbs out of his toilet. This story was very strange, but the way it was told was very beautiful as the mermaid is overjoyed even to ride on top of a small utility vehicle through town.

What connects both the stories is that we learn that the main characters are looking after people who are sick, which leads them travel to find a cure. One of Dong Dong’s friends, Tony (Ma Zhe) goes to India looking for a cure for his brother, who has stomach cancer. There is also another story set in New York with Dong Dong and a hit man, but I thought it wasn’t as strong as the other stories.

I have heard of Fruit Chan’s work before, but none of his other movies apart from Dumplings really interested me that much. Although the story meanders somewhat during the course of the movie, the characters and situations they find themselves in are so engaging that you don’t notice.

As I am particularly interested in cross cultural influences as shown in movies, I really enjoyed the Chinese-born children of the foreign nationals and the Hong Kong raised Indians who surprise Tony on the train by talking about his blond hair and he answers them back. The differences also lead to some funny scenes including piss drinking and Tony’s Indian friends saying that Hong Kong movies are too tense and not stress-reducing like Indian movies.

I would recommend this movie if you would like to see a ‘slice of life’ movie or want to see a style of Hong Kong movie that is different to the usual action or comedy movies that are usually what most people think of when they think of movies from that region.

Rating: 7/10