Chinese-Australian teenager Lawrence Leung destroys his medical school prospects when he cheats on his high school maths exam. He falls in with an old conman and his daughter to learn the art of swindling.

3.5
‘Colourful and undemanding, with knowing nods to some of cinema’s classic con-artist dramas.’

‘Told any good lies lately,’ asks comedian Lawrence Leung, straight to camera in the opening scene of Sucker. Everybody lies, he assures us; it’s part of being human. This is the set-up for a tall story that is loosely – very loosely – based on Leung’s own adventures with a small time con artist.

Young comedian and YouTube sensation John Luc plays the 17-year-old Lawrence, who runs away from home after flunking high school at his exclusive boys’ school – much to the disgust of his hardworking Chinese parents. He falls in with a small time crook (Timothy Spall) and his beautiful daughter and accomplice (Lily Sullivan). In a battered station wagon, this misfit trio travel from Australian country town to country town, swindling the locals with card tricks and classic cons. 

Gradually they work their way back to the big city and the Melbourne Casino for a backroom high-stakes game of Poker, where all kinds of secrets and lies will be told in a showdown with the Professor’s nemesis Riley (played with relish by Jacek Korman). Along the way, young Lawrence learns a thing or two about love, loyalty and his own need to tell the truth.

Leung wrote the script of Sucker (together with director Ben Chessell, whose previous credits are mainly in television drama) based on his long-running, award-winning one-man comedy routine – an hour long show that mixed autobiographical tales, card tricks and psychological insights.

Like much of Leung’s work (he’s best known these days for his ABC comedy/documentary series like 'Choose Your Own Adventure' and 'Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable'), Sucker is likable, geeky and gently funny rather than hilarious.

The greatest pleasures it offers are in the ‘Show and Tell’ elements of the story, demonstrating classic scams and swindles. Thus we see Lawrence and Sarah dressing up as a professional young couple to perform the ‘Lost Trinket’ routine; or the Professor beating a room full of chess champions by pretending to be drunk and playing them off each other. We’re given a peek at how card sharks produce Aces at Poker, and how the Three Card Monte works.

‘With her beautifully sulky mouth, Lily Sullivan gives the best performance of the piece, grounding the tall story with some kind of emotional consequence.’

The fun and games take on a serious edge as it becomes evident that there’s a toll being taken on the lonely young woman who may or may not be taking Lawrence for a fool. The most lucrative scam is when Sarah dresses up as a sophisticated seductress who is ‘rescued’ from men just before they take her to bed, her father rushing in to ‘reveal’ she’s underage and demanding quiet money from the guilty businessmen. With her beautifully sulky mouth, Sullivan gives the best performance of the piece, grounding the tall story with some kind of emotional consequence.

There are fun Australian comedy cameos in Sucker, including Kat Stewart as Sarah’s trashy absent mother, shown in flashback; and Shaun Micallef as a bug-eyed second-hand record store proprietor. Colourful and undemanding, with knowing nods to some of cinema’s classic con-artist dramas, the best thing about Sucker is suggested by Leung’s own comment to the audience at one of the film’s sold-out Melbourne Film Festival screenings: “Asians on screen. How good is that?” Leung joked. That an Asian leading man provided the film with much of its freshness –along with a number of cute cultural jokes – yet felt almost unremarkable is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement.

Sucker screened at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival

 

Details

1 hour 30 min
In Cinemas 15 August 2015,