Old Stone is Johnny Ma’s debut film and an exciting addition to the landscape of Chinese independent cinema. It is a thrilling and dramatic feature that forces its audience to confront the callousness of hit-and-run culture in Chinese society. Old Stone is a gripping story combined with authentic characters set against the backdrop of a practical, yet hard-hearted Chinese society.
Johnny Ma was inspired to make the film when he overheard a story about how a truck driver hit and injured a man, but instead of calling an ambulance, the driver ran him over again, killing the victim. Though his actions were appalling and horrific, the driver had a practical reason. If the injured man had lived, he would pay the man’s medical bills for the rest of his life. If the man dies, the driver only owes a one-time fee to the man’s family.
The movie follows a taxi driver, Lao Shi (Chen Gang), who finds himself in a moral dilemma after getting in a car accident. When Lao Shi is driving a drunken passenger, the drunkard grabs his arm, causing him to accidentally swerve into a motorcyclist. Instead of waiting for the police to arrive, Lao Shi decides to take the injured motorcyclist directly to the hospital himself. At the hospital, Lao Shi pays for the victim’s surgery, believing that he will be reimbursed by the taxi company’s insurance later.
Unfortunately for Lao Shi, he failed to wait for the police to arrive and he did not report the accident to the company as soon as he could have. Lao Shi failed to follow the right procedure at the scene of the accident and now he will pay the price. Without an accident report, the company’s insurance won’t pay. To make matters worse, the victim of the accident, Li Jiang (Zhang Zebin), has fallen into a coma since the surgery which puts Lao Shi into even more debt.
When his wife, Mao Mao (Nai An), finds out about the accident, she blames him for spending money on a stranger and dragging his own family down in the process. The taxi company, the police, his friends, and his lawyer all criticize him for not following protocol. His lawyer admits that “if he had died at the scene, this would be a much easier situation.” Lao Shi is completely alone in his predicament. While he is at risk for losing his livelihood and family, the bleakness of his situation takes a toll on him. The cynicism of his environment eventually hardens him, leading to a thrilling denouement.
What is profound about Old Stone is that its story is rooted in reality. Johnny Ma holds a mirror to the hardened culture of a place where the Good Samaritan is not only unrewarded, but may also be punished for his good deed.