You'll hopefully think twice before giving the Chinese-food deliveryman a lousy tip after experiencing a nerve-racking day in the life of Ming Ding (wonderfully understated first-timer Charles Jang), an illegal immigrant in Manhattan who struggles to send money home to his wife and child. Woken up and thwacked with a hammer by a gang of loan sharks who helped smuggle him into the U.S., Ming has until the end of the day to pay them $800 in juice—a daunting feat for a guy who's lucky to earn a tenth of that delivering broccoli and bean curd. Starkly shot in voyeuristically detached DV vérité by Greg the Bunny co-creator Sean Baker (who co-directs the film with Shih-Ching Tsou), Ming's race to make up the difference in tips after borrowing from friends and family has a compellingly hypnotic effect: Only the faces behind the apartment doors seem to change. But beyond the bickering yuppies, condescending complainers, and "that bitch at 845 West End," a seamless supporting cast of pros and amateurs and scenes shot in a real take-out restaurant during business hours—plus a palpable sense of levity amid the humility—makes for some of the most authentic neorealism this side of De Sica. This is as exceptional as microbudget cinema gets.
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