It’s not an easy feat for a low-budget short film to succeed in transporting you to another time and place. Most often, the end result smacks of community theatre because that’s probably also where they borrowed their costumes from. That’s why Tran Quoc Bao’s “Bookie” stands out from minute one. Along with the slick cinematography and impressive fight choreography, the sultry night club acts in “Bookie” suck you in and fool you into believing that it really is 1963 Seattle.
“Bookie” tells the story of a bookie named Bookie (Ken Quitugua) who works for a thuggish, womanizing club owner named Jackson. It’s the night of the big fight and the odds are, naturally, with the champ. Bookie takes a bet for the underdog from Rogers (JT Jackson), a fast-talking cat with the most interesting dialog. (Incidentally, JT Jackson played “Cola” in the Bacardi and Cola ads. It’s true that he gets the job done.) While Bookie waits for people to get their bets in, he shyly woos Billie (Angela Adto), the beautiful barmaid who takes abuse from Jackson. But when Bookie chooses to skim off the top to help Billie, he’s looking at more than just a pink slip as penalty.
While it is certainly an impressive short film, “Bookie” isn’t perfect. The acting is a little uneven and, unfortunately, most of that blame belongs to the male and female leads. Nonetheless, expert look and feel of the film makes up for some slightly cliché dialog.
The most powerful shots in the film, however, are of the club singers. The stunning close-ups on their faces tell more of a story in a few seconds than in the whole of “Bookie.” Another noteworthy performance is that of the masterful old-timey voice acting by Chad Jennings as the fight announcer.
On the whole, “Bookie” makes a fine calling card for Tran Quoc Bao and cinematographer Shaun Mayor. I hope it leads to bigger things for this creative team.