Chongqing Hot Pot (Yang Qing, 2016)

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The latest Chinese import to grace Seattle Screens, now playing at the Regal Meridian, is an absurdist thriller about trio of friends who own a failing underground restaurant and who accidentally tunnel into a nearby bank vault. After a tense prologue that recalls any number of Hong Kong gangster thrillers, men in black wearing Journey to the West masks arrive at a bank during a torrential downpour. The getaway driver has a tense run-in with a traffic cop, leading to panic in the bank as the robbers are soon surrounded and desperate for a way out. The camera tracks into the vault and discovers a hole in the ground, leading us down through a cave and into the restaurant, and back in time to the events leading up to the standoff. We’re told that the city of Chongqing (alternately “Chungking”), in southwestern China, is famous for its hot pot restaurants, and that lately people have been adapting the city’s network of caves and bomb shelters into trendy eating locales. Three old school friends have done just that, but the business is failing and they’re rapidly trying to unload it. To jack up their asking price, they try to extend the tunnel themselves, and that’s how they get into the bank. The bulk of the film revolves around their schemes to fix the hole without anyone finding out what they’ve done, while avoiding the temptation to steal the money.

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