Saturday, August 17, 2013

"What is time again?"

A movie that David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS, opened this weekend in 1985.  As you know, most potential summer blockbusters open two weeks before Labor Day.

Of those of you who remember VOLUNTEERS, the scene most recall is the “what is time again?” scene. So as an anniversary treat, 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.

19 comments:

Toledo said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kre-xcveGTY

If you wish to see the scene as it was filmed.

Ken Levine said...

Thanks, Toledo. Just posted it.

Michael Zand said...

Hey Ken,

It's been a while since I've visited here... years in fact. But for some (maybe not so bizarre reason) when I saw this I thought of you. http://mentalfloss.com/article/12787/heil-honey-im-home-nazi-themed-sitcom-canceled-after-one-episode

In the pantheon of shitty ideas this one is GOD

William C Bonner said...

I'd forgotten about "Mike is my knife".

I was attending Washington State University when this movie came out. That, plus being a John Candy fan, made this required watching.

Wim.

Breadbaker said...

Pressure is my business.

Morgan said...

Did you write any other movies? This is the only one you ever talk about.

Igor said...

Great stuff.

One small thing that amused me in a writerly way:

"Chung Mee is feeding fish raw meat as At Toon and Lawrence are brought in by the huge sumo guards."

Ken, I'm assuming you know that "sumo" ain't Thai. And that these guards were not Japanese. But it so works, who cares. (Like, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?")

Igor said...

^^^ Oh, but if the guards were Japanese, then... never mind.

Igor said...

And - Oh, #2: Some of this reminds me of the Firesign Theater "... as we learn three new words in Turkish" routine.

Which, as it happens, is on a record entitled, "Waiting for the Electrician Or Someone Like Him" - which was Chung Mee's problem.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Igor: I think we're all bozos on this bus.

wg

Kosmo13 said...

Volunteers was an excellent movie all around, but this was the line that made me laugh the most: "It's not that I can't help these people. I just don't want to."

Ed said...

Long Duk Dong is in this movie!

Larry said...

I like the movie a lot. I saw it when it came out and have watched it on TV several times since. It may not be an all-time classic, but it's funny and has held up well.

Cap'n Bob said...

There's an American sumo, why not Thai?

Igor said...

Cap'n Bob, that's true. But it's not as finely grained as Japanese sumo.

Igor said...

Or am I thinking of Kobe beef?

Ron Rettig said...

Was Lawrence Bourne the father of Jason Bourne?

George said...

The scene *I* recall the most is when her lines are being translated and it becomes known that the translator is just reading the subtitles to them. Then to save time they all just read them.

Richard Rothrock said...

I missed it in theaters so when it came out on VHS, me and my fellow film school students rented it and gathered to watch it. I remember that we were laughing so hard we had to stop the tape and back it up because we were missing things due to laughter. And we did it several times over the course of the film. Thank you, Ken. This is a hilarious film.