Jan Schutte's first feature film, the low-budget black-and-white "Dragon Chow," is an easygoing little character study about a Pakistani refugee in West Germany who manages to stay one step ahead of the immigration authorities until his luck eventually runs out.
But he's not a conman or an artist or a remarkable person of any particular sort. He's just an ordinary guy trying to make a living and help his friends, and that's what makes the film all the more notable.Too often when Hollywood makes movies about "ordinary" folk, they cast actors in the roles who are anything but. They are usually glamorous or bubbling with charm or have some other quality that imbues the film with a "larger-than-life" sense. And that's fine.
But here is a picture about someone who really is "ordinary." The fact that he's misplaced in a strange culture sets up the conflict for this light comedy-drama.
Shezad (Bhasker) is living in Hamburg, trying to sell roses in local bars, without being caught by the owners. (Male Chauvinist Pig Alert: The "Dragon Chow" title refers to the bouquets purchased by late-night bar patrons to appease their wives.)
As the film opens, Shezad is thrown out of a Chinese restaurant by Xiao (Ric Young), an angry waiter who Shezad will meet again later. He heads for home, a slum tenement, with Rashid, a fellow Pakistani refugee and rose-peddler.
Despite their lot in life, and the fact that Rashid's application for political asylum is about to be rejected, they are happy-go-lucky fellows. They look forward to better lives, but seem content with their lot at the moment.
For awhile they look for a German wife for Rashid so he can stay in the country, but when that fails he pays to be smuggled into the United States, a move that proves to be less satisfying than he expected.
Meanwhile, Shezad goes to work in a Chinese restaurant, meets and befriends Xiao and they decide to join forces and open a restaurant of their own. Will it be Chinese or Pakistani food? And where will they get the money to put it all together?
This the simple premise of "Dragon Chow," and Schuttes tells it with a straight-forward, clean, uncomplicated narrative structure. He allows us to understand Shezad and empathize with his troubles, but not because Shezad is attractive or smart. Simply because he is optimistic and untroubled, despite his problems. (Bhasker's performance is excellent, telling us a lot about the character with very little dialogue.)
Somehow, even at the end, which is not exactly a Hollywood happily-ever-after finish, we have confidence in Shezad and his ability to cheerfully survive.
"Dragon Chow," in German and Pakistani, with English subtitles, is not rated, but would doubtless get a PG for a few profanities. One complaint: There are far too many scenes with white backgrounds, offering no contrast to the subtitles, thereby rendering them impossible to read. - Christopher Hicks