The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Review
This title is currently available only as part of Optimum's The John Cassavetes Collection boxed set.
This review concentrates on the differences between John Cassavetes’ original 1976 cut of the film and his 1978 re-edit. Those wishing to read my opinions on the film itself are advised to the read the review of the 1976 version.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was completed and released in 1976 at which point director John Cassavetes went straight to work on Opening Night. However, following that film’s own completion he returned to Chinese Bookie and set about re-editing it. Having seen the original version, his reasons for doing so aren’t abundantly clear as that film was by no means a failure. That said, in attaching itself more readily to genre cinema, namely the thriller and the gangster film, it did perhaps set up certain expectations. Indeed, it was a work in which Cassavetes’ own style of filmmaking clearly outweighed the thriller element, and as such this re-edit could be seen as an attempt to redress the balance.
That said, the editing is mostly subtle and consists largely of minor trims to scenes here and there as well as substituting the original opening for a more elliptical approach. Indeed, by choosing to cut down many of the long scenes, we find ourselves with a more conventional – not to mention punchier – picture, and the results work in some interesting ways.
Most notable is the fact that the gangster contingent becomes far less knowable. What was their first scene, an informal moment where Seymour Cassel and associates come to Ben Gazzara’s strip club, has now been excised and as such we no longer have a way in to these characters. Indeed, our first meeting with them leaves a number of blanks and as a result we are compelled to fill them ourselves. Of course, these being big screen gangsters we understandably use our cinematic experiences as a means of bridging the gaps. Needless to say, this only serves to enforce this version’s more conventional nature.
Yet if Cassel, et al find their characters diminished, then so does Gazzara himself. And in this respect it is questionable as to whether Chinese Bookie’s 1978 incarnation actually marks an improvement. We no longer get such a strong sense of unity between the character and his environment, but are instead asked to focus on his situation. As such the appeal of either version is likely to come down to personal predilections. The 1976 version more easily fits inside the Cassavetes oeuvre and should therefore find better favour with his fans, but then the 1978 works as a dour thriller in the tradition of Peter Yates’ underrated The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Either way, in offering both versions in the boxed set, Optimum have pleased everybody.
The presentation quality here is identical to that of the 1976 cut and is discussed in my review of that version. As for extras, here we find an audio interview with John Cassavetes conducted by Michel Ciment in 1978. Of better quality than the 1975 chat which accompanied the A Woman Under the Influence disc, here we find a discussion of many of the key points raised by the film as well as some more general banter. As such, Cassavetes touches on the generic elements and the like, but also finds the time to mention young filmmakers and the festival circuit. Those wishing for a commentary over the film will no doubt be pleased to discover that the 1976 version contains such a piece by Al Ruban and Peter Bogdanovich.
As with the main feature, the interview comes without optional subtitles, English or otherwise.