Old Stone

Old Stone 2016 Still

Old Stone (Lao shi) [2016] is the thrilling debut of director/writer Johnny Ma starring Gang Chen as a taxi driver dealing with the repercussions of hitting a motorcyclist while out on the job.

Chinese Courtesy. It should be noted that in China there’s a funny thing about liability when it comes to accidents. If you were to hit a pedestrian while driving, and they live, you’ll likely be stuck footing the bill for all their medical expenses. Thus, it is not uncommon that those who get into such situations may roll over the victim an extra time or two to make sure they’re properly dead. That way you’re only stuck paying for a funeral, which is substantially less than who knows how long they may need medical attention.

Should’ve Called Geiko. This is precisely the situation Gang Chen’s Lao Shi gets himself into one day. A drunk passenger pulls his arm causing him to swerve and hit a man on a motorcycle. Instead of waiting for an ambulance to come, he rushes the man to the hospital himself, which the doctor admits was quick enough to spare his life. Unfortunately, this means Lao Shi is now responsible for this man’s care while he waits for the police report and insurance company to figure things out. Most unfortunately, the insurance company may not cooperate as he’d hope since he didn’t follow the proper procedures one should when getting into an accident, mainly phoning the event in and letting the company deal with the rest. He’s a man who thought he was doing right by saving a man’s life, and now his own will be slowly pulled apart one credit card swipe at a time.

Grit and Noise. The film as a whole is well done. It’s got a brisk run time, has little fluff, and develops and progresses the story and the arc of the main character well. There are some technical issues worth noting, however, but nothing that ruins anything. First, the sound mix seems fairly inconsistent, there are many times the general noise would have most likely drowned out some moments of dialogue (or at least made it more difficult to hear) which luckily wasn’t a problem as the film is subbed. Second, there are plenty of dark or grittier shots that don’t have the lighting quite right, but this never diminishes what can be seen. There are several moments through the film where audio or video quality seems to drop or change to lesser compared to the rest.

More Dramatic Than Thrilling. Advertising itself as a psychological thriller seems like too much. This is a meaningfully paced film that follows the drama of a man being abused by the bureaucratic system in play. It deals with a very real life situation and portrays it in a very real life way. The performances are as honest as the characters act. The writing and directing of Johnny Ma is strong and sure. It’s a cautionary tale, and one told in a sympathetic way. It’s all supposed to culminate in an ending that’s gripping and shocking, but really it’s all inevitable and predictably ironic.

Despite some technical flaws, Old Stone is a strong debut telling an honest story in China’s current day and age
with sympathetic characters and empathetic moral dilemmas.