Maybe our experiences were atypical, but when we were in high school, most of the “popular” dudes were nice blokes you could joke around with. Hence, their popularity. Perhaps we were just blessed with a unique social vantage point, but if you were good at sports and dating a cheerleader, why bother kicking a poor schmuck on the other end of the social ladder? High school sure looks different in the films they make today. The sensitive Hashi does not understand the bully instinct either, but he experiences it first-hand in Randall Okita’s The Lockpicker (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Asian American International Film Festival.
Hashi has a lot to deal with. His best friend, whom he clearly also carried a torch for, recently committed suicide, for reasons that are never fully explained—but viewers will assume bullying was a contributing factor judging from the callousness of his peers. Things are not much better at home, where his abusive father handles the bullying, but he does his best to protect his little sister Lucy. Hashi’s grades have suffered since her death, but in some ways, he has carried on, developing a crush on his manager at a second-hand clothing store. However, his compulsion to steal money from wallets in gym lockers is clearly more about lashing out than supplementing his earnings.
In fact, it is apparent right from the start Hashi is hurting deeply inside and feeling profoundly alienated from his not-so-mate-like classmates. He is constantly shutting out the world to listen to excerpts of his final conversations with her on his mp3 player. There is an unnerving obsessiveness to his behavior, but the contrast between her ghostly words and his business-as-usual surroundings also has a jarringly dissociative effect that will steadily grow stronger as the potential for violence escalates.
Okita helms with a remarkably assured hand, increasing the tension and paranoia to such an extent, we start to expect the film will explode into legit genre territory. Yet, somehow, he just leaves all the pressure built-up, never cranking down a valve to let some steam escape.
Keigan Umi Tang is also quite remarkable as Hashi. This young-looking teen appears to be on the verge of a complete emotional collapse. He makes every bad decision completely and utterly believable within the context of his performance, but it just gets painful to watch him bring more trouble on himself. He truly dominates the film, but Storie Serres hits all the right notes as Sara, the manager-friend who is cruelly oblivious to Hashi’s interest. Jordan Gray also proves that you can have an adult in a high school movie who is not a cliched stock figure, as the flawed but fundamentally decent teacher, Mr. Meikle.
Lockpicker is an impressive film in many ways, but it is hard to imagine buying it on DVD, because one viewing will be more than challenging enough for most audience members. Nevertheless, it is fully loaded with young talent, which makes it a fine choice for festival programming. Recommended for talent scouts and those who appreciate its grim indictment of bullying, The Lockpicker screens this Sunday (7/30) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.