Chinese Coffee



"It is one in the morning on a freezing New York night when struggling novelist Harry Levine comes pounding furiously on the door of his best friend, photographer Jake Manheim. Harry has all of a dollar and a half in his pocket and Jake owes him a substantial amount of money. Jake has even less money on hand than Harry, but what is worse is that he has not, he declares, read the manuscript of Harry's latest novel, a work on which Harry's last hope is pitched. Or has he? Relentlessly, obsessively, the desperate Harry probes the sardonic, world-weary Jake until the truth is finally revealed. Not only has Jake read the book and found it to be a thinly disguised account of their lives, loves and failures, but believes it to be a work of truly commercial promise, and perhaps of genuine artistic merit. Fiercely jealous, believing himself to have been potentially the writer Harry has indeed become, the failed photographer attempts to destroy his friends one chance to rise. The final moments of the play explode as Harry gains the courage to continue living and affirms his right to succeed." (this summary is from the back of the published play)




Al Pacino .... Harry Levine
Jerry Orbach .... Jake Manheim
Susan Floyd .... Joanna
Ellen McElduff .... Mavis
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Neal Jones .... Eteocles
Libby Langdon .... Julie
Paul J.Q. Lee
Norris Mailer
Francis Maiorino .... Student

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Chinese Coffee autograph
photo by Anita and Steve Shevett




Pacino's Coffee Is Ready
    (thanks Lisa Q. and Lisa W. for this info)
    Al Pacino has started showing friends the movie he directed. It's called Chinese Coffee, and it's based on the play of the same name. What's it about? Coffee is a two-hander with Pacino and Jerry Orbach in a chess game type dialogue.
    "He's hoping to take it to Cannes," a friend says. Chinese Coffee has been brewing a long time though.
    Meanwhile, Pacino is staging a reading of a script about Napoleon at his apartment tonight or tomorrow for other insiders.
    "This was a project that got screwed up by 9/11," a source says. "But it's back on."
    Pacino is definitely out and about. On Tuesday night he hit Elaine's on the Upper East Side and had quite a good time. Elaine's, by the way, is on a roll this week. Last night Robert and Katherine Altman dined with Richard Gere and Carey Lowell. They chatted about Dr. T and the Women, the movie Altman directed and in which Gere starred.   (CC probably not to be released)
    Release Date: TBA 2002 (limited release) (or... not? A reliable source has tipped me [1/27/02] to the possibility that Fox and Pacino may have mutually decided to hold this film back from release, possibly forever... with the world premiere at Telluride now over 16 months old, and this actually not showing up on Fox's schedule now for quite some time... there might be something to this.)

Coffee with Pacino, By Jim Slotek, Toronto Sun, TorontoWednesday, September 13, 2000  (intv with Pacino)
    (thanks Pat for posting this on the APML)

     -- When you're doing a film, and you're pressed for time, who ya gonna call? Sonny Scott! Al Pacino did. Which is by way of saying he hired himself to direct the play-turned-filmfest-movie Chinese Coffee.  (As Pacino revealed at a press conference yesterday at the Park Plaza, "Sonny Scott" was the WASPy stage name he was ready to adopt back in the '60s "when you weren't supposed to be in movies with a name that ended in a vowel." The Godfather, starring Sonny Scott?)
    "I prefer to act," Pacino told a packed filmfest conference room here yesterday. "Being a director happened in this picture because at the time I had to do it, there just wasn't anyone around to do it. And I had (co-star) Jerry Orbach just for a couple of weeks."
    Chinese Coffee -- which Pacino performed at New York's Circle In The Square eight years ago -- is Ira Lewis's claustrophobic drama about one night in the lives of two Greenwich Village playwrights whose friendship is coloured by competition, suspicion, jealousy and accusations of outright theft. It's Pacino's second turn at directing. Both it and Looking For Richard (about an actor's ruminations on interpreting Richard III) were more-or-less stage plays in front of a camera.
    And it's clear Pacino isn't ready to put 'director' down on his income tax form, so loudly does he demur about his abilities.
   "I don't think in terms of the visual. I need to have the support of a cameraman who can give me ideas. I'm good with relationships in a movie. But when I have to stand back and say, 'What is this scene doing visually?' I have a problem.
   "I feel like a novice as a filmmaker even though I've been around them all the time. (And) acting in a film and directing at the same time is a strange job. As an actor you're working from your unconscious and as a director you have to be conscious of what's going on. So you're in a constant conflict."
    At one point he was determined to make it more movielike. "The more I tried to make it visual, what would happen is I would lose the intensity of the play. And it would actually feel longer."
    In fact, he did fall back on some filmic tricks. "In Chinese Coffee I tried the angle of flashbacks to get you out of the room, because it's a play about two people in a room talking for an hour and 45 minutes."
    Chinese Coffee, he says, "explores the difference between symbiosis and real friendship. At the end of the movie (his character Harry) even says he doesn't know if they ever were real friends. What appealed to me most about this piece was the fragility of friendships. If there's anything relevant to an audience, it's that. They've all got friends and we can all identify with things that hurt friendships."
    The major problem, of course, is that Chinese Coffee is a personal project, and it has to fit in with Pacino's status as an in-demand film star. He shot three films (Any Given Sunday, The Insider and The Devil's Advocate) while preparing this one. Even attending yesterday's press conference meant Pacino had to take a day off from the L.A. filming of Simone -- a film written and directed by The Truman Show scribe Andrew Niccol, about a director (Pacino), whose tempestuous starlet walks off the set, forcing the filmmaker to digitally create a virtual female lead (Catherine Keener).
    As always, however, Pacino is spending his time between takes proselytizing for the theatre.
   "I'm always telling young actors to do stage. In this movie, Jonathan Schwartzman, who did Rushmore, is thinking of doing Waiting For Godot, and I've been encouraging him to do it. It just takes your actor's instrument and asks you to play different things."

(Here is another account of the same press conference.)
Pacino Premieres New Directorial Effort in Toronto, By Ka Yan Ng, Wednesday, September 13, 2000
    TORONTO, Sept 12 Al Pacino, eight-time Oscar nominee, winner of an Academy Award for his role in Scent of a Woman and director of Chinese Coffee said on Tuesday he is glad he kept his Italian last name otherwise the honors would belong to Sonny Scott. AP/Wide World
    Pacino broke off from a current movie shoot in L.A. to promote Chinese Coffee in Toronto.
   "I'm just so grateful that I was able use my name because when I was a young kid, and you were going into acting, you weren't supposed to have a vowel at the end of your name," Pacino told a packed news conference at the Toronto International Film Festival.
   "In the old days, I was going to call myself Sonny Scott. That's the truth. It was just a natural thing that you'd have to change your last name," he said.
    Pacino is at the Toronto festival for the premier of Chinese Coffee, a conversation that takes place one night in a single room between struggling novelist Harry Levine (Pacino) and his mentor Jake Manheim, played by Jerry Orbach, star of television's Law and Order.
    When Harry asks his best friend Jake for a critical appraisal of his latest work, their friendship is tested, as Jake feels the novel shamelessly exploits his personal suffering and professional failure. The film is based on the play of the same name by Ira Lewis.
    Pacino said he would not have attempted to translate the role into film had he not acted in a 1992 Broadway version of Chinese Coffee first.
   "I would do movies of plays I've done before, but would I just do a movie without working on the role first? I don't think so," said Pacino, who noted that there was added pressure with directing and starring in the film.
   "Acting in a film and directing it at the same time is a strange job because, you as an actor, you have to be working from your unconscious; you're operating spontaneously...As a director you have to be conscious of what's going on. So you're in a constant conflict, so you have to figure out a way to do that," he said.
    Chinese Coffee is the second foray into directing for Pacino, who made his debut with Looking for Richard in 1996.
    The actor said Chinese Coffee was a personal project and it was a chance for him to return to his theatrical roots, performing in off-off-Broadway shows in the 1960s.
    Nonetheless, Pacino said he is still not entirely comfortable behind the camera and is an actor first and foremost.
   "So far, I just don't respond to material in that way. I look at material I just think about how I can act it, not how I can direct it," he said.

Toronto Film Festival Screening
    Chinese Coffee
    A character-driven piece based on the play by Ira Lewis which Al Pacino performed on Broadway in 1992, Chinese Coffee is the poignant story of two middle-aged, impoverished bohemians whose friendship is tested when one of them writes a novel about the other.
    In the middle of the night in Manhattan, destitute Greenwich Village novelist Harry Levine (eight-time Academy AwardŽ nominee Al Pacino) comes pounding furiously on the door of his best friend, photographer Jake Manheim (Jerry Orbach from NBC's “Law and Order”). Suffering from frayed nerves, insomnia and drenching sweats, as well as a host of imagined illnesses, the indignant Harry (who has just been fired from his job as a doorman for not demeaning himself enough) is more desperate than ever to reclaim the money Jake owes him. To Harry's disappointment, Jake is broke, and worse still, he has nothing to say about the manuscript of Harry's last novel, a work on which Harry's last hope is pitched.
    Relentlessly and obsessively, Harry probes the sardonic, world-weary Jake for an evaluation of the artistic merit of his work. When Jake finally breaks his silence, his response is far more critical than Harry expected – Jake feels that the novel shamelessly exploits his personal suffering and professional failure. With overpowering feelings of betrayal and fierce jealousy, Harry attempts to destroy his friend's last chance to succeed.
    Pacino is one of the best American actors of the twentieth century. Chinese Coffee confirms that his greatest work is also his quietest. The drama unfolds in a single room with flashbacks to happier and more prosperous times in both men's lives. Pacino and Orbach have both earned reputations as quintessential New Yorkers, and together they bring to the film an intensity and humour rarely seen outside theatre. With Chinese Coffee , Pacino solidifies his status as a first-class filmmaker.

"Fox Searchlight Acquires Pacino's 'Chinese Coffee'"
    Updated 9:18 PM ET August 4, 2000
    LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Fox Searchlight Pictures announced today that it has acquired rights to the feature film "Chinese Coffee." The second directorial effort by Academy Award-winner Al Pacino, "Chinese Coffee" co-stars Mr. Pacino and Jerry Orbach (Emmy nominee for "Law and Order"), and features Susan Floyd and Ellen McElduff. The announcement was made jointly by Searchlight President Peter Rice, President of Marketing Nancy Utley, and President of Distribution Stephen A. Gilula.
    Said Peter Rice, "'Chinese Coffee' is a superbly crafted, passionate film that deeply engages both the heart and the mind. We could not be more pleased or more proud that Searchlight will be bringing this work to audiences, and that we will have the opportunity to work once again with the extraordinarily talented Al Pacino." This will be the second collaboration between Fox Searchlight and Mr. Pacino; the company also distributed his critically-acclaimed directorial debut, "Looking for Richard."
    A virtuosic "pas de deux" by Pacino and Orbach, "Chinese Coffee" follows a winter's night conversation between a struggling Greenwich Village writer and his mentor. Interspersed with flashbacks to the women and events that shaped the friends' fates, and covering an emotional range from comedic to cruel, the film is a surprising tale about the intricacies of love and friendship, and the siren-song of dreams.
    "Chinese Coffee" was written by Ira Lewis. It was made by Mr. Pacino over the course of three years, in between other commitments such as "Any Given Sunday" and the Oscar-nominated "The Insider." Explains Mr. Pacino, "I was fascinated by 'Chinese Coffee,' and from the first time I read it I wanted to do it. I felt a strong attachment to 'Chinese Coffee.' I liked the world it was set it in; I liked the characters and what they went through; I liked the statement it made. Also, I like Chinese coffee."
    Fox Searchlight has acquired world-wide rights in all media, and expects to release the film in North America in 2001. "Chinese Coffee" was produced by New York-based Chal Productions, in association with The Shooting Gallery. Producer is Michael Hadge. Executive Producer is Anne D'Amato. The film was brought to Searchlight by Tony Safford, Senior Vice President of Acquisition, who supported the project through its early stages of post-production. The deal was brokered by CAA.
    FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES is a film production and distribution company which focuses on distinctive works by world-class directors and screenwriters, as well as by exciting newcomers. Releases have included the Academy Award-winning "Boys Don't Cry," "The Full Monty," and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," among many others. A unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures has its own production, marketing and U.S. distribution operations. Its films are distributed internationally by Twentieth Century Fox.
    Contact: Julie Tustin of Fox Searchlight Pictures, 310-369-1148

Pacino Gets Directing Coffee Break, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12: 25 PM AEST September 14
    Actor Al Pacino breezed into Toronto Tuesday to introduce his new small-budget film "Chinese Coffee," but played down his talents as director in the movie which is based on an Ira Lewis play about friendship.
    Pacino, who flew in from Los Angeles for one day to fete his movie at the 25th Toronto International Film Festival, was first introduced to the play in 1983 and later performed the lead role in 1994.
    This time the eight-time Academy Award winner directs the film as well as stars as Harry Levine, a down-and-out New York writer craving his first success.
   "Directing happened here with this picture only because at the time there wasn't anyone else around to direct it," Pacino, dressed all in black, said modestly.
    He explained that there were only a few weeks to shoot the scenes with Jerry Orbach, a lead actor in the television drama "Law and Order", who plays the other main character Jake Manheim, Harry's mentor.
   "I don't feel that I'm comfortable in a position as director," Pacino admitted at a press conference here.
    He said "acting in a film and directing in a film at the same time is a strange job" as acting involves more spontaneous work and directing observes everything very consciously. And the two, he added, seem to involve contradictory elements.
   "Had I not done 'Chinese Coffee' on stage, I would not even have attempted it" as both actor and director, he said.
    "Chinese Coffee" -- similar to Pacino's first directoral effort, "Looking For Richard," a previous festival entry here -- focuses on the dialogue of two men.
    Pacino's Harry seeks his friend's thoughts on his latest manuscript in the middle of the night, but is not expecting the the harsh criticism Jake levels. An all-night conversation ensues which highlights the fragility of their age-old friendship.
    The film is one of the 60 world premieres debuting on screens across town during the 10-day film fest which ends Saturday.




CHINESE COFFEE (*****)  Unlike most films of plays that fail to break free of stagy theatrics, this film draws its strength from a wonderful script and an intimate tone of Off-Off-Broadway theatre. The combination of Al Pacino and Jerry Orbach together for a solid hour and a half could not be more special. Susan Floyd is also wonderful as Pacino's bohemian love. Painter, long time friend of Pacino and "Before Night Falls" director, Julian Schnabel, introduced the film on behalf of Pacino, who had to return to L.A. to shoot a movie. Carson Jones (DJFreak), New York City, 15 October 2000, Toronto 2000 Wrap-Up  (Internet Movie Database)





"It's the story of a friendship and a kind of betrayal.It needs the right kind of framework to be seen in." (USA Today, August 30, 2002)




(I've read this play and I loved it. My favorite part is where Jake talks about Harry's hypochondria: page 41)

HARRY: I think I've got a little too much empathy for my own good.
That's a pose. You're the most self-obsessed individual I've ever come across. Look at your bizarre hypochondria. A perfect expression of uncomplicated self-love.
Let's not overstate things; everybody had a touch of hypochondria.
A touch??? Why, it's probably without parallel in "The Annals of Abnormal Psychology." Why, for one solid month you drove me absolutely bananas over whether you were going to die because your pulse was slow. You were taking your pulse fifty, sixty times a day. And a slow pulse means your heart is healthy not diseased.
HARRY: Not if you're older than seventy-five. Then it's a definite indication of "heart-block."
"Heart-block." Your heart is blocked, all right. And then the cancer of the knuckle? Knuckle cancer?? Spent an entire weekend looking for a knuckle specialist. A knucklist! And then the cancer of the palm. Which was a callus.
It kept growing.
And then the blood pressure? Bought that fucking blood pressure machine, took your pressure all night till finally it WAS above normal. Then staggered in here next day, your arms all covered with blotches from the cuff... which you thought was some kind of "red gangrene." You and Joanna living absolutely hand -to-mouth, tosses out money for a blood pressure machine.
It was on sale.
Nothings a bargain you don't need it. Come here, roll up your sleeves.
No. For what?
Come on, roll 'em up. (He reaches abruptly for Harry's arm.) Lets see what you've been up to you sonovabitch!
(Recoiling from Jake's grasp.) No! (They do a sort of dance around the table as Jake attempts to grab Harry's arm and Harry tries to elude Jake's grasp.)




It is 97 minutes / 35mm, finished in 2000

Pacino funded the low-budget project himself.

It was shot over the course of three years, working it in between his roles in other films.

Fox Searchlight bought the distribution right  In 1996 the specialty division of Fox Filmed Entertainment also released the Oscar-winning actor's first picture, "Looking for Richard," a documentary about Shakespeare and his relevance today.

The story is based on a play Pacino performed at Circle in the Square in New York in 1992.

Jerry Orbach won an Emmy nomination for starring in "Law and Order".

Al Pacino, directing traffic, as well as his new flick, Chinese Coffee, in Greenwich Village. One of those obnoxious New York pedestrians (like I was, and still am) complained that he was going to be late for a Yankees game if duh duhrectah didn't let him pass. So A.P. told him to be an extra and walk through the scene. Whataguy. E! Online, The Awful Truth

Al showed "Chinese Coffee" and "Looking for Richard" at the Tribecca Film Festival in 2003. 




Currently unavailable on dvd or video. =(



Internet Movie Database
More Pictures from CC by Marcel Thomas
Lycos MultiMedia Search Results (photos)
Your (photos)
Alta Vista Photo Search
Toronto International Film Festival Site
Buy a copy of the play from
yahoo upcoming movies

Jerry Orbach: Internet Movie Database

If you would like to buy a copy you can get one with a black and white picture of Al and Charles Cioffi in it (the one at the top of the page in the summary) from: 
THE DRAMA BOOKSHOP, INC, 723 Seventh Avenue, NY, NY 10019, phone: 212-944-0595 (it cost $5.25 + postage when I bought it)
You can also order it from most local bookstores.