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Poking Around: Review of Christopher Leong’s Poker

By: Darida Rose

The short film, Poker, written, directed and produced by Christopher Leong, follows the exploits of a typical, good-looking young guy on the dating scene. He does what any rational guy in his situation would do: he shaves, sticks a bunch of goop in his hair, spends a lot of time looking in the mirror to make sure everything is just right. And most importantly, when the time comes, he uses an appropriate form of protection. Then he moves onto he next date.

What he does that might not be so rational, is giving his roommate, in fact played by Leong, a fairly aggressive bump on his way out of the bathroom. This level of machismo seems a bit over the top. And sure enough, the roommate has a plan for revenge. Without giving too much away about the form of revenge, let’s just say that the title, Poker, is a double entendre. And there is some card playing in the film. But our protagonist gets into much more trouble than he bargained for with his dates and by the end of the film, he’s consumed with regret and despair. And, we suspect, he is now unexpectedly moving in with one of his dates, leaving his happy roommate alone.

Does our hero deserve such severe revenge? Probably not. But it’s a fun ride anyways. And like most good shorts, Poker revolves around one very simple idea and plays it out until the end.

The topic here is in fact quite serious (more about that below), but the tone is light and fun. Near the end of the film, we see what must be a tongue in cheek saying on the wall of an ice cream shop: “Once in a while, right in the middle of ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.” While we wouldn’t call this a fairy tale, it is quite a story. One of the striking things about the film are the reactions of the women involved. While our hero is totally distraught by the circumstances, the women seems distinctly unperturbed, and in one case seem quite happy.

Poker was filmed using an iPhone and the FilMic Pro app, not that you’d ever know given the high production values. Judicious use of black and white shots mixed with intensely colourful ones make Poker a visual treat. As a directorial debut, this short shows a lot of promise.

Poker has a great soundtrack, and the songs tell a bit of a story in themselves. We begin with “Shop Around” by The Miracles, seemingly because the young man is playing the field and dating as many women as possible. We then move on to the Jackson Five tune, “Never Can Say Goodbye,” which seems to signal that he won’t be getting rid of this past date so easily. And finally, we have “I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)” by The Chi-Lites, which, quite appropriately, tells us that, “I’m gonna even the score.”

Apart from the soundtrack, the film is silent. One of the marks of a great screenwriter is the ability to tell a story without using any dialogue. And Poker is certainly a great example of visual story telling.

In the promotional blurb for the film, Leong mentions that he had the idea for the film while in film school, but the instructor forbade him from making it. We can only speculate as to the reason. It is likely that the instructor did not find the central conceit of the film amusing. Without giving any spoilers, I would say that this is similar to the debate surrounding Tarantino’s films: is the depiction of extreme violence likely to encourage others to become more violent? Quentin Tarantino famously claims that the audience can tell the difference between film violence and real violence. Similarly, in Poker, we’re shown a strategy for revenge that would be easy to imitate and that would have very serious consequences. So is showing it going to lead to a rash of such incidents? I don’t think so. If can laugh at Leonardo DiCaprio incinerating a man with a flamethrower, as he does in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, surely we can at least have a chuckle a this.

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