REVIEW: DVD Release: Chiko

Film: Chiko
Release date: 28th June 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Ozgur Yildrim
Starring: Denis Moschitto, Volkan Ozcan, Moritz Bleibtreu, Reyhan Sahin, Fahri Ogun Yardim
Genre: Crime/Drama
Studio: E1/Vertigo
Format: DVD
Country: Germany

Chiko is Ozgur Yildirim’s debut feature. A look at one young man’s attempts to fight his way to the top of Hamburg’s drug trade, Yildirim, has described his film as "my Scarface set in a Hamburg suburban ghetto." Lofty ambitions indeed, and a reference point that is plainly apparent.

Chiko is a young Turk living in Hamburg. Like Tony Montana, Chiko wants to rise to the very top of the drug trade in the country that he has adopted as his own, and he is willing to engage in any acts necessary to help him climb the ladder. Along with his best friend, Tibet, he begins working for Brownie (Moritz Bleibtreu), a local gangster and drug kingpin.

At first all goes well for the two friends, as they find themselves afforded the respect and fear they desire. In true movie gangland style, though, their paths diverge, and while Chiko is taken under Brownie’s wing and elevated to higher status, Tibet gets greedy, forgets his place and bites the hand that feeds him by skimming cash off the top of Brownie’s profits. The resulting punishment leaves Chiko with a dilemma. Avenge his best friend and give up all he’s worked so hard for, or stay loyal to Brownie and turn his back on one of the last remaining connections with his ‘real’ life?

If the plot of this film sounds all too familiar, don’t panic. That just means you’ve seen at least one other gangster movie in your life. There is nothing original about this film, but perhaps it’s best to assume that’s deliberate. Almost every facet of this movie has its origin in US films we’ve all seen. Some of them are even underlined and highlighted for us, metaphorically.

Brownie is a man not to be crossed, and the punishments he metes out on those who do wouldn’t be out of place in the Rambo movies he so adores. Chiko will discuss identity and faith with a Turkish prostitute Meryem in a restaurant that is every inch the stereotypical American ‘50s Diner. Tibet’s primary ambition in life is to own souped-up, modified cars with his name all over them, just like those he sees in The Fast And The Furious. Later, when he becomes increasingly isolated and enraged, he expresses his sense of betrayal by pulling a gun on his own mirror image and shaving off his hair, before going on a gun-toting revenge rampage. These are not references that need explanation.

These déjà vu feelings even extend to the main character. Isa Oikar (Denis Moschitto), is, like many US characters before him, a young man made up of contradictions. He is a low-level thug and drug dealer, but also conflicted and loving father to a young girl. He is a Turk, but his home is in Hamburg. He is a Muslim but his name is Arabic for Jesus. His nickname, Chiko (tattooed on his arm) makes him sound like a Hispanic gang member on America's mean streets, but his empty rhetoric about respect and power ensure he comes across as an anachronistic parody of the American gangsters he so obviously aspires to.

The director, however, seems less interested in following his American blueprints than in using them to show how the new Germany assimilates - sometimes imperfectly - all manner of influences. When Chiko and his gang set up shop in a flat to sell their product, we see representatives from all aspects of German society coming to them in need of “kick ass weed.” Many of them are obvious versions of tried and trusted characters and stereotypes, and perhaps this mirror image is exactly what the director was aiming for.

Chiko is a hard-hitting snapshot of the brutal underbelly of modern life. As a study of the food chain in the illegal narcotics trade, and even as a localised variant in genre cinema, Chiko, as a whole, delivers a quality product. Moschitto, however, is almost as unable to carry the film as his character is unable to cope with the pressures around him. With a maximum of two facial expressions (mean and moody resentment or furrow browed nervousness), he lacks the necessary charisma to make other characters, and unfortunately, viewers, invest in him. This means the trust and friendship which Brownie so quickly (and crucially) bestows upon Chiko is never really plausible. The more seasoned Bleibtreu, by contrast, oozes psychopathic charisma that, while entertaining, serves to further expose his co-star's shortcomings.

A watchable film, in which the prerequisites of the genre are mixed (if not seamlessly, then at least enjoyably) with the ethnic idiosyncrasies of its setting and characters - it is, unfortunately, let down by a disappointing performance from its lead. PD

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