Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"What is time again?"

Of those that remember a movie my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS, the scene most recall is the “what is time again?” scene. So here it is.

To refresh, it’s 1962 and Tom Hanks plays Lawrence, a spoiled preppy who takes his roommate’s place in the Peace Corps in Thailand to avoid a gambling debt. He befriends At Toon, a Thai villager. They’re kidnapped and brought to the lair of Chung Mee, a fierce warlord. To spoof all those characters who spoke so cryptically in these types of movies we decided to have Chung Mee speak exclusively in cryptic double-speak.

INT. CHUNG MEE’S DINING ROOM – DAY

A spacious atrium. Chung Mee, financed by the CIA, has loads of household gadgets – blenders, air conditioners, etc., none of which work on account of there’s no electricity. It’s the thought that counts. Instead of air conditioning, an AGED MAN pulls the rope for an overhead fan.

Chung Mee is feeding fish raw meat as At Toon and Lawrence are brought in by the huge sumo guards. Chung Mee has an unlit cigar in his mouth. He dips the end in a brandy snifter.

LAWRENCE
This is nothing. My parents have friends who are twice this pretentious.

CHUNG MEE
The bridge you are building. When will it be completed?

LAWRENCE
The bridge? You’re interested in our bridge. Here you go –

He takes a wooden match and strikes it along the stubble of one of the monster sumo guards presenting Chung Mee with a light. A frantic scuffle ensues, but Chung Mee stays cool and accepts the light, eyeing Lawrence shrewdly through the smoke.

LAWRENCE
We’ve got a fine young man working on it, but it’s hard to say. Why do you want to know?

CHUNG MEE
Opium is my business. The bridge means more traffic. More traffic means more business. More business means more money. More money means more power.

LAWRENCE
Before I commit that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?

CHUNG MEE
Speed is important in business. Time is money.

LAWRENCE
No, you said opium is money.

CHUNG MEE
Money is money. And money is my objective.

LAWRENCE
Then what is time again?

CHUNG MEE
When the bridge is completed, you can have whatever you need.

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to At) And they told me to go on those interviews at Yale. (to Chung Mee) Well, gosh. Of course, for now, I’d want to run things in Loong Ta. And then, when I’m ready to leave, passage to Bangkok and a plane ticket to America. And – it’s hardly worth mentioning – twenty-eight thousand dollars in cash. I have some library books overdue.

AT TOON
Nice knowin’ you.

CHUNG MEE
I want the bridge finished in six weeks or you are finished in seven.

AT TOON
(to Chung Mee) You’re goin’ along with that?

LAWRENCE
No problem, commander. The bridge is yours.

CHUNG MEE
And you are mine.

LAWRENCE
It’s only fair.

A door opens and a beautiful Eurasian WOMAN enters. She wears a slinky low-cut dress and gloves. She is obviously the most enchanting creature Lawrence has ever seen.

CHUNG MEE
Business is completed. After business comes pleasure. Pleasure is also my business.

LAWRENCE
For me?

CHUNG MEE
If I say “yes” and not “no.”

AT TOON
You want me to translate?

LAWRENCE
Got it. (to Chung Mee) A little incentive. You’re a sly boots. (walking to the woman) Lawrence Bourne the Third, junior partner. And you, of course, would be…

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

NOTE: Lucille speaks English with a very thick Chinese accent. It’s indecipherable, so her words are always SUBTITLED.

LAWRENCE
Pardon me?

LUCILLE
My name is Lucille.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
Lucille! Her name is Lucille!

LAWRENCE
Oh, Lucille. That’s highly erotic. How did you get a name like that?

LUCILLE
My mother was English.

LAWRENCE
What?

CHUNG MEE
(losing patience) That is her name!

LAWRENCE
She’s staying for dinner, of course.

CHUNG MEE
Yes, but you are leaving.

LAWRENCE
Right now? I just got here. (sidles closer to Lucille, sotto) What do you see in him? Are you a chubby chaser?

Lucille grabs Lawrence’s hand and bends the fingers back. He winces in pain.

CHUNG MEE
Lucille is my bodyguard. She doesn’t like it when my orders are questioned.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers and Lucille releases Lawrence.

LAWRENCE
Thank God my fly was zipped.

Chung Mee snaps his fingers again. The two henchmen grab Lawrence and At, leading them out.

LAWRENCE
Glad to be aboard.

AT TOON
Thank you for dinner and not killing us.

LAWRENCE
I’m free any night. Lucille… Did I mention that back home I own a Corvette?

The group exits.

14 comments:

RAC said...

What is time again?? Wait a second--the end of the equation Chung Mee rattled off was, "More money means more power," which means he's confused when he says money is his objective because, obviously, as stated, POWER is his ultimate objective.

Likewise, Lawrence said Mee said, "opium is money," when he should have said, "No, you said opium is POWER," which is, again, Mee's true objective, as stated, if anybody was actually listening.

What this means is that both time and money are mere means to an end--which should have been recognized in the scene as POWER.

RAC said...

Ken, send me your FAX number for more detailed notes, and I'll throw in some sketches of how to improve the costumes and set design for the remake. [Snicker.]

Ken Levine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Levine said...

Yeah. Thank you. I really need notes.

RAC said...

He said with dripping sarcasm.

BTW, I love that scene, almost every line or two is killer funny.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Did you ever get the complaint that it was too funny? Whenever a director says 'a picture is worth a thousand words', I should give him this scene.

Scott said...

Ken, maybe you mentioned this in an earlier post.
What went wrong with Volunteers? To me, it's a weak comedy with Tom Hanks being poorly cast.

Do you want to share the reason/reasons Volunteers doesn't come off well? Direction? the Studio? Casting? Perhaps even the writing wasn't handled correctly?

PALGOLAK said...

My favourite bit, and I remember using it for years after, was Tom Tuttle's college major. It is pretty late, so I can't quite remember what it was. "Social Engineering", or something?

Anyways, it was pretty funny.

Also his talking about "the peoples' truck", "the peoples' hairdryer". I still use that one from time to time.

Scooter said...

I netflixed Volunteers a few months ago... I loved it... I don't know what is wrong with people.

Tom Quigley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Quigley said...

Ken, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that a friend of mine found a copy of VOLUNTEERS at a Walmart a couple of weeks ago and bought it, which now makes the total number of copies of it sold here in Rochester in the last 12 months -- let's see... Oh, yeah -- one....

joke said...

If it's any consolation, I loved this movie, laughing hysterically throughout, and since then my conversations ("So THIS is Hell.") have been peppered liberally with dialogue therefrom -- good luck getting residuals out of me, incidentally -- having been pretty much That Guy.

I attribute its box office uderperformance to:

1) A lack of marketing support
2) Tom Hanks' accent varying depending on the take
3) The boycott organized by the Guild of Preppies, outraged that "Preppy" was being slandered by the implication that a real Prep would drive a Corvette. (A real Prep would, emphatically, not.)

-J.

Blade Canyon said...

"Beth, my heart soared..."

I use that line a lot when I want to make a point. Or when I'm drunk.

Jeremy Vitale said...

I just watched this in h.d. love this movie. What is whith the letters on Chung mee's face about?