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Filmmaker Rui Cui is not deceptive but quickly admits that when attendees at a panel discussion following a screening of his film Free Choice sincerely asked “Does this prison actually exist?”, he smiled with the contentment that only comes to a director who has enabled the audience to be “all in.” Free Choice is a character driven crime drama/sci-fi thriller set in the near future. In truth, the story is a political metaphor which questions what lengths we are willing to go as a society and as individuals in regards to crime and prison overpopulation. As a director, Cui expertly and sparingly reveals parts of the layered story in this film, crafting a world that seems perfectly plausible and horrifying as we reach the climax. Originally from Beijing, China, Cui received his M.F.A. in Film and TV production from University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and was a visiting scholar at Cogswell Polytechnical College.

Free Choice is presented in one single location and the puzzle is unveiled through the dialogue of the characters of the film. Four prisoners have chosen to participate in a mysterious game of Russian Roulette for a shot at freedom. Filmed on a 360-degree track and filmed non-stop until the game ended, the immersion of the actors in the story is easily palpable. Rui designed this filming method to heighten the exhaustion and intensity of the actors for the film. Even though the entire action of the film takes place with the prisoners sitting at a table, the energy is electric thanks to camera movements and riveting performances.

The story shows Ben, Serge, Jeff, and Adam competing with the understanding that the price of failure is fatal. Dialogue is the driving factor here as each prisoner is humanized by telling their own story with the understanding that there is no possibility of a reprieve save for one. Throughout the game, we learn each character’s unique backstory that led to his imprisonment. Ben, for example, mistakenly executed the wrong man after discovering his pregnant girlfriend brutally murdered in their home. Even in this fatal game of chance there is someone with an edge, a secret not to be spoiled here (Free Choice is well worth watching yourself to find out).

Among the incredible cast which includes Zackary Andrews (Ben), Dylan Myers (Jeff), and David Reed (Adam) is Evgeniy Lazarev (as Serge). Rui was adamant about casting Lazarev as Serge in Free Choice. Known for his work in the Oscar nominated Iron Man 2 (grossing $642MM Worldwide), Sum of All Fears ($194MM worldwide), and Lord of War (alongside Academy Award winners Nicholas Cage & Jared Leto), this acclaimed actor brings gravitas to his role as a Russian spy.

Describing his intention with this film, Rui states, “With Free Choice, my goal is to explore the nature of human choice. We might believe there are some decisions we’d never make but is it possible we have less freedom over our choices than we might think? I feel the thriller genre is a great avenue to explore such heady themes. It no doubt renders our content much more engaging. The choice to confine the film to one location and shoot it in real time contributes further tension and mystery to a twisty, unpredictable narrative. The focus however remains on the individual characters – human beings – each a riveting, mesmeric universe unto himself. Serge, for example, is a Russian spy whose heritage makes Russian Roulette an enjoyable pastime for him in his old age…or so he says.” As recipient of Film of the Year from the China-US Film Festival of Young Cinema and Wonders International Film Festival and an Official Selection of the 2018 Hollyshorts Film Festival, Free Choice is taking aim at the festival circuit and creating tense enjoyment on the part of audiences everywhere.

Author: Kelly King

FREE CHOICE IS THE ULTIMATE TENSION Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:33:00 AM Rating: 5
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