Monday

By Dinh Thai | Drama
A young hustler is a one-stop shop for illegal goods. Then he has a chance at a big score.

Kwan is a young hustler living in Los Angeles, a veritable one-stop shop zipping around on his bike for any illegal or stolen good you could want. Drugs, bikes, laptops, phones: name it and Kwan can get it for you. Always out to make a score that he can parlay into profit, he knows everyone and everything, blending into one clique or group to the next.

But when he encounters his former romantic interest during one of his transactions, he reckons with the moral implications of what he's doing. But when they make plans to meet at the end of the day, he gets a chance at a big score and faces a test of where his heart truly lies.

Entertaining, relatable and as nimble as its main character, writer-director Dinh Thai's short drama is a heightened "day in the life" of a young man making a living with nothing but his wits and his constantly ringing iPhone. It's resolutely character-focused in its close attention to relationships, people and the nuances of communication. But it's also a sharp-eyed, sometimes amusing observation of what it feels like to be Asian-American amid a wider panorama of races and ethnicities.

The film packages its insights in an engaging, brightly stylish sense of craftsmanship, and the pacing and action are always in motion, much like Kwan himself. Its beautiful cinematography and deft camerawork capture both the ordinary grit and luminous beauty of Los Angeles, and we follow Kwan as he zips from one score to the next.

Each encounter also brings Kwan into a different milieu, where viewers can observe him subtly adjust his self-presentation and demeanor to each group's mores. (Kwan donning glasses before meeting up with the rich white partiers is particularly amusing.) The writing reveals itself as both subtle and entertaining, combining witty BS and banter with an ear and eye for how Kwan can both fit into groups but also remain an outsider in all of them.

Lead actor Kevin David Lin plays Kwan in all these situations with ingenuous shape-shifting ability and a streetwise intelligence underlying it all. He doesn't make the mistake of playing Kwan as a representative of his race, but as a full-blooded character with a wide range of emotions. Viewers see what a consummate professional Kwan is: he's enterprising, quick, sharp and strong without having to be domineering. But he's also tender with his ex-romantic interest and other significant relationships, revealing a wider emotional life -- one that eventually reveals the real reasons for his non-stop hustling.

"Monday" ends on a somewhat disquieting decision, suggesting that beyond the sentimental reasons he hustles, Kwan may himself be addicted to the chase and the score, despite the growing dangers. It's one of those rare endings that is both wryly ironic but also leaves viewers wanting to see more. We sense that if we followed Kwan on more of his adventures, we are guaranteed a constantly compelling stream of events, incidents and people, delivered in a quick, entertaining way that doesn't take from the wit and precision of its social observation. But we may also sense a darker ending in the distance, where tragedy catches up despite the main hero's heart, smarts and hustle -- and our actions and choices ring in their natural and perhaps inevitable consequences.




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