Writer/Director Randall Okita’s debut feature film, The Lockpicker, is a haunted coming of age character study focusing on the tumultuous life of a teenager named Hashi (Keigian Umi Tang). Hashi is an expert lockpicker, but is reeling from the recent death by suicide of a good friend of his. Coupled with a home life which walks the knife’s edge on eggshells and abusive outburst, Hashi struggles to defend himself and others from bullies, none of whom seem to understand just how much they are playing with fire.
Okita is an accomplished director of short films, but it is a real treat being exposed to his aesthetic for a lengthier run time. The film is awash with color, illuminating a dark street in crimson or imbuing one of Hashi’s many dream sequence with a sullen blue. His camera captures wonderful and peculiar details that hint at the narrative instead of screaming it out. The screenplay itself lags behind this accomplishment, but only slightly. There are a few too many dream sequences and hallucinations, which feels like drawing from the same well a few too many times. Other portions of the story drag a tad, but these are nitpicks, as the narrative itself is less important than the character study of Hashi.
This character study succeeds in large part due to an outstanding performance from Keigian Umi Tang. He handles the angst and ennui of a teenager with a practiced air, and most of his performance is visual. He has some dialogue, but no overly-explanatory speeches describing his feelings. He sulks, he rages, and he wonders at his lowly place in the world and if there is anything he can do to fix it. From a newcomer, it is wonderful, and lends the film most of its heart.
Overall, The Lockpicker is a patient and studied look at anguish, loss, and alienation – all in the confines of that peculiar hell that is high school.
This review was originally published as part of our Reel Asian coverage. The Lockpicker will screen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday. The screening will conclude with a Q&A with director Randall Okita.