‘Snakehead’ review – The Hollywood Reporter

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Multihyphenate Evan Jackson Leong Builds On Established Documentary Career For Impressive Debut Feature With Snake head, a reality-based narrative film about the personal and collective ramifications of human trafficking. Even while Leong was working on his 2013 professional basketball doc, Insanity, he envisioned and planned a leap to a larger web that could encompass the criminal expanse of the underworld from Chinatown to New York.

Convinced that his perspective as a sixth-generation Chinese American could humanize reporting on the ancestry of Asian gangs in the United States, Leong drew inspiration from the criminal career of Cheng Chui Ping, known as the name of “Sister Ping”, a trafficker who operated between Hong Kong and New York in the 80s and 90s.

Snake head

The bottom line

True crime.

By creating a protagonist who can be referred to from a notorious model, Leong deftly captures both the vulnerability and the threat of a woman who finally takes control of her life after decades of victimization, delivering a crime drama. tense likely to secure a unique place in American cinema of Asian origin. After Toronto, Snake head is slated for an October release from Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions.

Leong begins his criminal saga with the arrival in New York of a former Chinese detainee who made a deal with “snakehead” traffickers to smuggle her into the United States aboard a dirty cargo ship, with a load of other immigrants. Known as Sister Tse (Shuya Chang), this young woman does not seek to pursue the American dream; instead, she hopes to be reunited with her daughter after losing custody while serving her prison sentence. All she knows is that a New York family adopted the child at a young age and now lives somewhere in Chinatown. Tse will have to repay a debt of more than $ 50,000 before being freed, but she quickly demonstrates that she will not accept a life of prostitution, beating hard one of the gang’s executors.

The assault attracts the attention of Big Boss Dai Mah (Jade Wu), a woman who runs one of Chinatown’s largest human trafficking rings, as well as a variety of other criminal activity. Tse quickly rose to the Dai Mah organization, where women were generally exploited or ignored. She served first as a sympathetic debt collector, then as a reluctant drug trafficker, before gaining Dai Mah’s trust and joining his immigrant smuggling business, which effectively exploited most of the major methods and routes of trafficking. In her new role, she begins working directly with Dai Mah’s favorite son, Rambo (Sung Kang), an angry abuser who constantly begins arguments and brawls.

While supporting the same gang that trafficked her, Tse searches for her daughter, Rosie (Catherine Jiang), eventually spots her in a Chinatown park and follows her around town, but keeping an anonymous distance. Flashbacks to the girl’s childhood in China barely sketch their relationship, offering only a generic sense of Tse’s motivation to reconnect. At the same time, she tries to avoid Rambo after he starts harassing her. Just as she seems to be getting ahead of him and securing her place as Dai Mah’s heir apparent, a series of critical decisions endanger Tse’s dream of escaping bondage and reuniting with her daughter.

The structuring of the scenario around the central character of Tse puts forward his point of view, underlined by his frequent comments in voice-over. This is a technique that is sometimes too focused on exposure, perhaps to compensate for the script’s fractured plot structure, which repeatedly switches to flashbacks or cuts deep into scenes, which can disrupt the rhythm and the continuity of the film.

Chang is fully committed to his naturally taciturn but emotionally unstable character, pointing out the conflict between Tse’s core morality and his clearly amoral struggle to survive the many perils of gang life. As the ruthless crime boss, veteran Wu keeps the pressure on, manipulates and motivates Tse with both threats and promises, a backup plan always ready to neutralize anyone who crosses her path.

Take a break from the studio rate to re-team with Leong after their previous collaborations on Justin Lin’s Better luck tomorrow and Finish the game, Kang brings even more disturbing and unpredictable violence to his Rambo character than he did in his multiple appearances as Han in Lin’s. Fast Furious released. Fans of independent films may also be delighted to see Harry Du Young, in another of his countless supporting roles, as Tse’s client Uncle Gum.

Leong’s observational style enhances the film’s characterizations, skillfully capitalizing on cinematographer Ray Huang’s use of dense, saturated colors and a dynamic wide-screen lens, which makes even streets and alleys cramped. larger and more bustling Chinatowns.


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