The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is an American film directed by John Cassavetes from 1976. As a crime film, this one stands out from its genre. The director focuses on each character and defines the individuals in a sentimental way that highlights the soft spot inside of each of them.
We dive directly into the story, without any context, by following the main character Cosmo Vittelli, the owner of a strip club, who is now paying his last gambling debts. During the opening scene, the film gives you the impression of watching a documentary, it is shot in the point of view of Cosmo and captures the way that he is seeing the world. This styling establishes a defining element for the rest of the film.
The film is shot almost entirely by a hand-held camera, which created a realistic feel to the point-of-view shooting. But it is the night scenes that are of the greatest cinematographic importance because of the emotions they evoke. The elongated shadows and contrast of light and dark are typical mannerisms of film noir. The use of low-key lighting to create an atmosphere of loneliness and desolation, which matches the psychological situation of the character Cosmo. Red lighting is found repeatedly throughout the film, specifically in scenes which encompass a sense of desire and danger; which reflects the inner feelings of Cosmo, who contains a lot of passion and desire to love.
Cosmo seems like a happy man, just like the other guys who come by the club but within time it is clear that it is only a front. In reality, he is a busy, lousy and lonely individual. In a scene where the host presents the strippers, there are many hand-held close-ups of random parts of the room with noisy background, cast in the red light. We can’t see the show which is taking place due to the chaotic moving of the shot. The scene which is erotic in essence loses its sexual appeal as the point-of-view shooting scans the room. This scene gives us a feeling that we are inside the thoughts of Cosmo and his state of mind: distracted, confused and troubled.
The dialogue gives information in an indirect and incomplete way, it exposes the characters and the relation between people very slowly and we get to know them little by little.
As the lead, Cosmo rarely talks about himself and what he wants in life. We discover through a song that is repeats throughout the movie that beneath the crime story, the main character is actually a romantic.
The director uses many descriptive filming techniques to create scenes that generate the feeling of desire, despair, loneliness, love, and danger. This movie highlights an individual’s strength to achieve the impossible but when we are facing love, the powerless feeling can be impossible to overcome.