Emerald Cowboy
review by Gregory Avery, 19 September 2003

Emerald Cowboy purports to tell the story of Eishy Hayata, born in Tokyo, raised in Los Angeles, and who went to Colombia in the 1970s, slapped a cowboy hat on his head, and became an esmeraldero, independently buying rough emeralds in open-air markets or from miners or anyone who digs them out of the ground, purchasing them with ready cash. Twenty-five years later, he is the successful head of a large emerald company in Bogota, probably one of the most dangerous places in the world to be living and doing any sort of business in, let alone trading in precious stones, and Hayata is seen coming and going with no less than nine bodyguards at a time to prove it. 

Hayata, in the flashbacks, is played by an actor who is much taller than him and looks a lot different. Hayata plays himself in the scenes set in the present day and in the 1990s, when an attempt was made to literally force him out of business because, among other things, he's a "foreigner" (something that is never mentioned by anyone until two-thirds of the film is over with). The flashbacks are filmed in conventional mode (and the film itself was made on location, in Bogota and in Colombia's mountainous regions), and none, absolutely none of the actors or persons who appear in these scenes are credited in the film's end credits. The modern day scenes are lensed in a wobbly, handheld style, with brackish colors. This is of no particular help, since Hayata is not an actor and is also not a particularly pleasant man to look at, having the screen presence of an unpolished block of granite.

Hayata receives sole credit for the film's screenplay, and co-directed the picture with Andrew Molina. Some of the stiffness in the action and dialogue may have been intentional, to give the picture a "realistic" quality. However, just showing some people dickering over the price of uncut stones does not give us a full idea of what the emerald trade is like or how Hayata became a gem merchant. Nor does showing his Colombian-born wife, sent to Los Angeles to raise their three children, calling him long distance to complain ("I don't have any life here!") give us an idea of what his private life was like. (He sensitively responds, "I don't have a minute to f**k around with any whore!" And, besides, there's no P.T.A. or volunteer services in Los Angeles that she can become involved in?) And yet, he is shown standing up to people with guns and telling them that he is the "heart of Colombia" (though he also wears a bullet-proof vest in to work every morning). Then, before you can say "vanity production", or anything else for that matter, an epilogue informs us that, in 2002, Hayata was shot, and "is in critical condition, fighting to survive a coma at a hospital in the United States"[sic].

Barbet Schroeder's recent film, Our Lady of the Assassins, made on digital video in Medellin (where Schroeder spent part of his youth), showed how harrowing and hair-trigger (and strangely exhilarating) day-to-day existence in Colombia could be. There's probably a good story to be told in the events that make up Emerald Cowboy, but it hasn't been nearly brought to the fore.

Directed by:
Andrew Molina 
Eishy Hayata

Starring:
Eishy Hayata
Eva Hayata

Written by:
Eishy Hayata

Rated:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not 
been rated.

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