Hashi (Keigian Umi Tang) is both a typical and an atypical teenager. The things that make him the latter are fascinating. He does things that are criminal. Things that qualify him to become the movie’s titular lock picker. He goes through his schoolmates’ wallets while they’re in gym class. He’s also an unashamed underachiever, and it’s a relief to see an Asian Canadian teen play a slacker like I was. The film, then, has the difficult task of making this kleptomaniac sympathetic. As these things go, director Randall Okita shows that Hashi’s urges do not define him.
To accomplish that, The Lockpicker lets Hashi express his dreams of leaving Scarborough. The movie also shows him experiencing flashbacks when he remembers his best friend and crush’s suicide. He also writes poems for an crush who is alive, Kay (Madi Langdon). And herein lies the movie’s limitations. That no matter what, we’re still watching a boy who wants to get out of dodge. Adolescent discontent only allows for limited character trajectories. He is also still the weird Asian kid. He’s still an Asian stereotype regardless of how many hoodies Okita puts him in.
This is Okita’s debut feature and it shows, although he tries to insert impressionistic touches here. Of course it’s not a teen movie if it doesn’t have its share of house party scenes. The alcohol and drugs also come into the mix there. However, even in those he evokes a refined version of the colors we see in Toronto winters. He and Tang also convey what it’s like to feel alone in a crowded room. And in one of those parties he keeps running into a girl who eventually tells him to back off.
It also conveys what it’s like to go to high school in east end Toronto. Hashi doesn’t have the accent, and neither do the people in his circles. However, some supporting characters have that accent. There’s something wonderful about hearing an accent in a movie that’s personally familiar. Culture is important and it’s nice that emerging Canadian directors are tuning into that. And these accents are magical in The Lockpicker, which uses dialogue sparingly. There are no ad hoc conversations here. The film conveys its arcs through close-ups of someone who doesn’t always want to face the camera.
That distance, unfortunately, also feels obtuse and is The Lockpicker‘s downfall. There’s even a shaky cam effect to some later scenes. It also doesn’t help that Tang’s performance is only mostly good. Or perhaps the movie doesn’t use him properly. It’s as if he and Okita decided to make Hashi seem outwardly stoic towards high school’s microaggressions. Then the payoff would be titanic when he eventually explodes. However, it feels like that climactic scene feels too late. Nonetheless I see potential in both the actor and the director to do better things in the future.