2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
A surprise hit of the festival, writer and director Bishrel Mashbat’s crime thriller In The Land of Lost Angels (2018) concerns a pair of bungling, Mongolian American kidnappers. Orgil (Iveel Mashbat) and Ankhaa (Erdenemunkh Tumursukh), are self styled gangsta wannabes living in LA’s Korea Town. Needing more cash than an ordinary stickup would net, Orgil hits on the idea of kidnapping the son of a wealthy former client named Sanders (Robert Corsini). The entry level robbers first need a gun.They haggle with an African American friend (Saint Ranson) over the price. When the buy nearly falls apart, they should’ve quit right then.
Orgil is the dominant personality, speaks better English and is more acculturated. Ankhaa is a recent immigrant, has a sweeter disposition and hesitates before doing bad things but ultimately goes along. Tension between crime partners where one is the more aggressive instigator is a familiar theme. Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) capitalizes on that dynamic as does Compulsion (1959), the exploration of the Leopold and Loeb murder case. Orgil and Ankhaa sport tattoos and have short haircuts. First time actor Tumursukh, in particular, resembles a young Ken Takakura (The Yakuza ), best known for Japanese crime movies. Similarly, some fans, responding to his tough but sensitive personae, have called him a “Mongolian Tom Hardy.”
The kidnappers stage a fake accident scene to lure the victim out of his car. Scott (Mike Cali) is taken by surprise. The initial phase goes off without a hitch but keeping the victim both safe and secured proves problematic. I was reminded of Patty Hearst (1988), Paul Schrader’s take on the Hearst kidnapping. In that movie, Patty (Natasha Richardson) is at first terrorized, then goes through a series of negotiations and bonding moments with her abductors, a condition known as Stockholm Syndrome. In All the Money in the World (2017), the kidnappers of young heir J. Paul Getty III alternate between attentiveness and brutality before the patriarch grudgingly pays a ransom. In Lost Angels, Scott has to beg for simple privileges like loosening his blindfold and being let out of the bathtub where he’s held to use the toilet. In trying to ingratiate himself, Scott offers up his credit card for snacks but makes the mistake of using a Mongolian word he learned somewhere. This angers Orgil who screams “What did you say? Why do you think we’re Mongolian?” The film has an abundance of tension with one especially gruesome sequence.
Inspired by film noir, Mashbat shot in black-and-white and says, “Color might be more immersive but to me black-and-white is more elegant and more direct. I always wanted to make a movie in black-and-white. The moment I decided on the crime genre, I thought, let’s take the film noirs of the forties and fifties and then marry with modern verite, hand-held. I wanted today’s audiences to experience black-and-white. Cinematographer Mike Maliwanag added, “I feel that black-and-white strips away the layers. It allows the audience to focus on the actors and what’s going on in frame versus the subtleties of color.” I asked them about the visual references and any iconic films that inspired it. Mashbat said, “I’m a cinephile and drew from fifty plus films but one big influential film was [the Romanian drama] 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). They were pioneers in shooting shot per scene. That gave me the guts to follow with the same style. And, there’s a great French film called La Haine (1995), Those two and a million films I’ve seen in my life.”