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This Week's Film Reviews ( Oct 29, 2021)

19 Oct 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

ANTLERS (USA/Mexico/Canada 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Scott Cooper


ANTLERS plays like a scary horror Grimm’s fairy tale.

ANTLERS, being produced by Mexican Guillermo del Toro now living in Toronto, known for his now classified masterpieces in the horror genre like PAN’S LABYRINTH. THE SHAPE OF WATER, CRONOS has had a fair share of problems in production and released to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Finally after 2 years of waiting, it arrives.  Thankfully, it is well worth the wait.  

Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), a school teacher in a small town in Oregon, and her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, become concerned about one of her students, a young boy named Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) who is secretly keeping a supernatural creature inside his house.  The creature had been transformed from a human being - to a monster that has ANTLERS.

The film benefits from the performances of heavyweights Jesse Plemons (soon to be seen in Jane Campion’s POWER OF THE DOG), Graham Greene (who seems to be in almost every indigenous themed film) and Amy Madigan.  Newcomer Jeremy T,. Thomas as the young boy holds his own and carries the film admirably.

If the film moves slowly, it takes its time to build on the suspense, characters and story.  Nothing is left unexplained and the script leaves no loose ends.  The creature is attributed o indigenous folklore, that is explained by the Indigenous character, Warren Stokes (Graham Greene) in the film.

The film’s special effects are impressive and not overpowering.  The effects are used only when necessary and to enhance the film’s credibility.  The transformation of humans to a monster with ANTLERS is basically all the special effects are needed for.  Though done in darkness with a little bit of light, the sight is effective enough to create a strong impression for audiences.  

A fair amount of screen time is devoted to the daily life of the boy, Lucas.  The audience sees him at school, trying to cope with his school work, while being bullied at the same time.  At home, where he tries to make sense of the transformation of his father from human to monster and the deterioration of his younger brother’s health -  that are effective in evoking the sympathy of the audience.  The effect humanizes a horror tale to a credibility level.

At the same time, the film’s focus changes to the life of the boy’s teacher, Julie, who notices the boy’s behaviour and tries to help.  It emphasizes the importance of teachers in the life and influence of his/her students under their care.

ANTLERS is an over serious film that was initiated as a horror flick.  Over-serious films tend to be problematic but this tactic appears to work well towards the film’s credibility  The attention to meticulous detail helps as well.  ANTLERS though a fictitious film that everyone knows on seeing, is totally fictional, with its director Cooper’s efforts not only going unnoticed but succeeding extremely well in this slow moving but extremely eerie and captivating horror fairytale.

 

ARMY OF THIEVES (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer

ARMY OF THIEVES is the prequel to ARMY OF THE DEAD that was also released this year last May on Netflix - a huge success.   ARMY OF THE DEAD became one of the most-watched original Netflix films with an estimated 75 million viewers over its first four weeks, while earning $1 million at the box office from its limited theatrical run.  Two prequels followed with the first one, ARMY OF THIEVES opening this week on Netflix.

The setting is just before the zombie apocalypse.  The film combines several film genres -  zombie; romantic comedy; action and heist genres.  German actor/director/producer Matthias Schweighöfer who had a supporting role and who was originally hired to direct ARMY OF THE DEAD before it was handed over to Zack Snyder, directs and stars in this one.

The film is set six years before the events of Army of the Dead, during the beginning stages of the zombie outbreak.  Ludwig Dieter (Schweighöfer ) is in his early days of safecracking.  When the film opens, he is competing in some safe-cracking contest, which he wins.  Following the win, he is hired by a mysterious woman, Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) to pull off a heist (actually made up of 3 mini ones) with the help of a misfit crew of aspiring thieves.

The setting changes to 3 major cities where each heist takes place - Paris, St. Moritz in Switzerland and Prague.  Paris, first then Prague and finally St. Moritz.

The film has a few action scenes, understandably since this is a safe-cracking caper film.  Gwen gets to karate two guards at the Prague back when they suddenly appear.  “This is not part of the plan,” says Ludwig to her. “”It isn’t.  I improvised,” is the answer.  Expect lots of surprises that appear improvised in the film.

To up the angst, the story adds in two detectives, one an obsessive named Delacroix in pursuit of the thieves. The film also spends time on each of the thieves, giving each an individual character.

Director  Schweighöfer knows his heist films and takes his film to the next level.  They often fast forward to how the heist would ideally go smoothly before moving back to the actual heist when something does go wrong, or part of it anyway.  This heightens the suspense.  This tactic is followed in the film.  In one scene, Ludwig says out loud about this misfit band, saying that like heist movies, the team eaac has one skill that when all put together will make them invincible.   

The script is occasionally smart. In the heist of the last vault, the transport of the vault is shifted earlier.  As the detectives are baffled, the film incorporates flashbacks earlier in time to accommodate how the heist took place at the earlier time.

ARMY OF THIEVES is cheesiness taken to the next level.  If one is not in the mood for slow burning artistic flicks, this cheesy action romance comedy should whet one's appetite.  Also quite clever, is the fact that this prequel of a zombie movie has little to do with zombies. 

Trailer: 

UN TRIOMPHE (THE BIG HIT) (France 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Emmanuel Courcol

As unlikely as the film’s series of events could have taken place in real life, it did, and the film clearly touts the fact at the start that the film is based untrue events (apres one historic vraie).

Etienne (Kad Merad), an often out of work but endearing actor, runs a theatre workshop in a prison, where he brings  together an unlikely troupe of prisoners to stage Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot (En Attendant Godot).  When he is allowed to take the colourful band of convicts on a tour outside of prison, Etienne finally has the chance to thrive.  Each date is a new success and a unique relationship grows between this ad hoc group of  actors and their director.  But soon comes the final performance in Paris. The question is whether their last night together will be the biggest hit of them all? 

At first glance, the story might seem intriguing with convicts doing Beckett.  But it could be a flop and a bore.  But director Courcol is able to observe the best and occasionally faults of human behaviour and human nature to craft his otherwise observational piece - of both the convicts and Etienne.

Etienne initially is carried away with the notion of convicts performing in a Paris theatre.  Etienne goes all out to get approval from the prison authorities and also to round up a group of 5 actors, out of 500 or so.  The five are extremely lucky, they are told, as they have been selected out of 500 and they get to leave prison and perform as if they were free.  But mostly, they get to experience the euphoria of performing on stage.  Many of the convicts arrange for their loved ones to come to watch them perform, including Etienne, who invites his estranged daughter to attend.  She does not show up, reciprocating her father’s actions as he was not always there for her.  When Etienne rebukes her for not showing up at the theatre, she retorts; “You never even asked once how I did in my exams.”  Actor Merhad (BIENVENUE  CHEZ LE CH’TIS and César Award Winner for DON’T WORRY, I’M FINE) display both the enthusiasm and frustration of working in a prison theatre.

Director Courcol humanizes the story.  He relies on how the emotions of the prisoners are similar to the theme of the play.  In EN ATTENDANT GODOT, the characters in the absurdist play are always waiting for Godot who never shows up.  The prisoners themselves share the same fate.  They are always waiting - waiting for meals, waiting to be put back to their cells, waiting for visiting time and waiting to finally get out of prison.  So they can relate, as Etienne observes.  It is also marvellous to see one of them, who has never read and has a bit of a speech impediment, recite the wondrous lines of Beckett.

The only trouble with the film is director Courcol trying too hard and it shows.  The last portion where Etienne takes to the stage to praise his actors is over the top, with the entire audience approving and giving him a standing ovation.  Too eager to please, Courcol’s timely observational piece on corrections ends up a minor feel-good movie.

The temptation of the convicts to make an escape is obviously there, as it is so easy with so few guards and with the play going on.  Not to provide any spoilers, the problem is not overlooked in the film.

The film is based on true events that took place in Sweden with the big performance taking place in Gothenburg

Trailer: 

HORROR NOIRE (USA 2021) **
Directed by (various directors)

HORROR NOIRE is a horror anthology consisting of 6 stories, all based on black characters.  The black characters make a welcome change to the horror genre, though this film consists of stories that are hit and misses.  The stories are entitled: ”Daddy," "Bride Before You," "Brand of Evil," "The Lake," "Sundown" and "Fugue State"

In the first story, THE LAKE, a young woman, after suffering a personal tragedy buys a property by a lake.  An elderly man warns her immediately upon her arrival: “Bad things happen in the lake,” warning her not to go into the water.  A reverend and a girl were dragged up by an alligator at the very spot, or what seems to be an alligator, he adds.  These ominous words do not deter her from swimming in the lake.  She finds some skin reaction the next day as a result.  More ominous words are toyed around with the audience when she, revealed to be a teacher, toys about the death theme of Edgar Allen Poe poems in class.

When admonished about designing a symbol for an unknown client rumoured to be a neo-Nazi, the artist/designer replies: “Everyone sells their soul to the devil.  You bought me these (headphones) from Amazon, remember?

The best of the anthology is saved from the last.  Entitled SUNSET, the action takes place once the sun goes down.  A group of political canvassers, black and white for a black candidate descend on a small town, not knowing the reason no one is at home during the day.  Come nightfall, the mayor invites the canvassers for the feast of the blood moon.  The invitation is accepted.  Who does not as there is free food?  Besides all their vehicle tires are flat, punctured by the town folk.  It turns out that the townsfolk are all vampires.  The black couple of the group discover, to their dismay and horror, that they are the chosen ones (dark meat) to be eaten when the blood moon is high, akin to them being the turkey during Thanksgiving.  This last story incorporates more humour that the other stories and it plays on the fact that this story is quite  over-the-top.

All the stories share certain similarities.  All unveil monsters and these monsters do not appear till at least half way in each story.  Each story, unfortunately, shares the same flaw that the stories all end abruptly, with often no head and no tail.  The first story ends with the appearance of the monster in the lake, coming from nowhere, a hybrid of a demon and the female protagonist.  The DADDY story ends weirdly with the father turning into a demon as well, the man at the window that is haunting the son.  Each story also has the common thread that it deals with black matters, whether it be doing work for the black community or looking after the family.  Each tale also has some message, the first one being the only one that does not seem to have one, except maybe to heed warnings like: “Don’t swim in the lake.”  There must be some truth in every warning.

Running at close to two and half hours, HORROR NOIRE tends to be tedious with the 6 stories, though short films stretch too long.  Many are mediocre tales with the monster or horror element seem to be thrown in for fun.  There is also no framing story.  Despite the welcome black updating, don’t expect too much from this horror anthology, though the current rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 100% at the time of writing.  There have been many better ones.

Trailer:

 Trailer: 

HYPNOTIC (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Matt Angel

The Netflix original movie opening this week is not to be confused with the upcoming American sci-fi action thriller film of the same name in development since 2018, directed by Robert Rodriguez, written by Max Borenstein and Rodriguez and it features an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, Hala Finley, Dayo Okeniyi, William Fichtner and JD Pardo.  This one, besides being cheesy and derivative, is a lean small budget effort that succeeds on its own terms.

This is not the first time films and excellent ones at that, have been made with hypnosis and triggers.  The best example and best film on that subject to date is John Frankenheimer’s 1962 minor masterpiece THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in American POW in the Korean War is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy.  The film was remade in 2004 by Jonatahn Demme with Denzel Washington but one cannot outdo a minor masterpiece.  In HYPNOTIC, poor Jennifer is hypnotized by Doctor Meade, the villain of the piece and triggers placed in her mind.  It takes up to 30 minutes to reach this point when Jenn (Kate Siegel) realizes the danger she is in, when she seeks help from another doctor in one of the film’s funniest and best moments.

Does his kind of hypnosis really exist?  The film takes it seriously with a story that assumes the possibility, yet  is smart enough to include some tongue-in-cheek humour on it.  When Jenn seeks help from Doctor Graham (Tanya Dixon-Warren) to place counter-triggers, Jenn tells her: “This is the last time I am doing this.  I do not have much faith in your profession.”  Dr. Graham replies: “I am one of the good guys.”  The script goes to some lengths to show the credibility of hypnosis.  The detective tale about how hypnosis is used in the police department in having witnesses being hypnotized to really some facts the mind might subconsciously remember.    The film also emphasizes the fact of the difficulty of convicting a man of murder,  This is a good jolt on reality, which recalls a 10-minute, jolt to reality scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN in which Hitchcock demonstrates how difficult it is to kill a man without a weapon.

A few action scenes distract from the film being totally a psychological thriller.  One scene has the detective Wade Rollins (Dule Hill) viciously attacked by a mad (assumed hypnotized woman triggered by hypnotics to do the job) woman in his apartment.  A few noises in the night evoke the mood of horror films.  The vicious attack scene is immediately reminiscent of the one in THE OMEN in which Billie Whitelaw, the demonic nanny who attacks Gregory Peck in Richard Donner’s 1976 classic THE OMEN.  It would be no surprise if director Angel took some inspiration from that film.

The film’s attempt to be politically correct, scores a passing mark, in its casting has a black detective, a villain that is male white and a female protagonist.

Trailer:

LABYRINTH OF CINEMA (Japan 2019) **

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

LABYRINTH OF CINEMA is very personal and succeeds on that level that the late director Nobuhiko Obayashi gets to put his swan song vision on celluloid.  But what transpires on screen might not be for everyone.  For one, the film is alneghty surreal 3 hour feature that celebrates cinema with a narrative that goes against the typical Hollywood one.  Personally, stunning as Obayashi’s film looks on sreen, it is quite a chore to sit through its entirety. 

The film stars Takuro Atsuki, Takahito Hosoyamada and Yoshihiko Hosoda as three present-day Onomichi moviegoers who find themselves transported back to 1945, just prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  The three enter the screen, sort of opposite to Woody Allen’s THE PUPRLE ROSE OF CAIRO where the character comes out of the screen instead, with Main Farrow falling in love with the screen idol, Jeff Daniels.

At best the film pays tribute to the old films, both Japanese (the war films) and Hollywood, particularly the musicals.  There are images that look identical to the best of Hollywood musicals like Stanley Donen’s SINGING IN THE RAIN with Debbie Reynolds dancing between Gene Kelly and Donal O’Connor.

It should be noted that in 2016, director Nobuhiko Obayashi was diagnosed with stage-four terminal cancer.  Despite this, he decided to start production on LABYRINTH OF CINEMA. While filming and editing Labyrinth of Cinema, Obayashi was receiving treatment for his cancer.

The film premiered at the 2019 Tokyo International Film Festival and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020.  It is Obayashi's final film before his death in 2020.

Trailer: 

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (UK 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Edgar Wright

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, the new psychological thriller is writer/director Edgar Wright’s (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) most ambitious feature as he blends together the past (the period of the swinging 60s) and the present as his protagonist, Eloise struggles with her family’s past mental illness and a haunting ghost.

Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is a 1960s-obsessed young woman who ventures from the English countryside to study fashion at a prestigious London academy.  Ostracized by her school’s chic cliques, Eloise retreats from her dormitory to a rented flat in Soho, where her life becomes psychically intertwined with that of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a singer living in 1966. Director Wright turns the overlapping traumas of both present and past into a vivid swirl of danger.

There are three solid performances making it a good reason to see this movie.  Three stars of the 60’s Rita Tushingham (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO), the late Diana Rigg in her last movie here (TV’s THE AVENGERS’ Emma Peel, West End’s MADEA, the only Bond girl, 007 married in HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) and Terence Stamp (THE COLLECTOR) make the price of the film’s admission ticket well worth its price.  Tushingham plays Eloise’s supporting grandmother.  Rigg appears in what initially appears as a little role as the landlady taking Eloise in, in her bed sitting room, but turns out to be a major influence in the story as does Terrence Stamp.

Wright evokes the look of the 60’s films, even that of the horror 60’s low budget slasher films like TWISTED NERVE and with images reminiscent of Ken Russel’s THE MUSIC LOVERS.

The soundtrack is totally 60’s with 60’s hits like Petula Clark’s DOWNTOWN being performed as one of the numbers’ highlights.  Wright paints his images with the psychedelic pop colours of the 60’s films, so well captured also in the Austin Powers spy comedies.  The James Bond sounding soundtrack also adds to the suspense and danger of Eloise’s situation.

Wright builds up the suspense culminating in a big climatic scene complete with fire engulfing a residence.  Too bad that he also resorts to a few cheap jump scares.

Wright updates his film to include the #MeToo Movement.  For one, the film has a young female protagonist whose love interest is a black teen.  The topic of young girls abused sexually to enhance their careers is the film’s main issue as well.  The survival and resilience of the female in an unfamiliar, unfriendly and terrifying London are well examined.

If the story does not all come together credibly in the end, Wright’s flawed film still manages to mesmerize and capture audience’s attention, thanks to the director’s experience and dedication to his vision.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations Section.  For all the colourful period atmosphere and mood created for a swinging 60’s psychological thriller, the film is a visual pleasure.

Trailer: 

A MOUTHFUL OF AIR (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Amy Koppelman

Julie Davis (Amanda Seyfried), warm, kind, loving to her husband and child, is a bestselling children’s author.  While her books deal with unlocking childhood fears, she has yet to unlock the dark secret that has haunted her own life.  But when her second child is born, events occur that bring that secret to the fore, and with it, a crushing, powerful battle to survive.

One children's story involves Pinky and the star monster.  Pinky notices that the number of stars in the sky is diminishing and begins several tactics to get the stars back by throwing various forms of light to the sky, but with no permanent effect.  The story is a metaphor for what Julie needs to do to keep her life together.

Director Koppelman has created a sensitive and occasionally dramatic portrait of what it is like to live with a person with mental illness.  One can see the patience required by the husband, the effort put in by the mentally ill as well as family members that take sides.

(The birthday of the new baby girl is October the 9th.  Why is this date so significant?  It just happens that this is the same birthdate as this film reviewer.  Coincidence or is this reviewer a bit crazy?)

The long-suffering husband has been walking on egg shells for almost his entire marriage.  It appears that it is all about his wife and nothing about him.  Giving in all the time proves here to be a very difficult task.  And it is also unfair today that everything is all about the wife, since she has a mental illness.  The film clearly shows the dilemma the couple faces.

The root of mental illness is vaguely hinted at.  One can safely assume that no answer can be given because there might be no black and white answers to the problem.  But the delivery of the second child allows Julie to better understand the triggers of her mental instability.

The film contains a fair amount of animation, even ending with an animated sequence with a simple tune.  The animation is of one of Julie’s books, of her character Pinkie in her pink world.

The important issue of antidepressants is examined in the film.  Antidepressants help ease the problem but Julie, like many other mental illness patients, prefers to cope without the drugs.  Again, there is no black and white solution to the question.

Amanda Seyfried delivers a bravura performance in a role she has made both sympathetic and vulnerable.  Wish the same could be said of Finn Wittrock who plays Etahn, Julie’s husband who seems so wooden in his performance as if he was wishing the entire film was over.  Paul Gimatti leads his hand in a cameo as Dr. Sylvester, giving Julie anecdotes for her problems.

A MOUTHFUL OF AIR is a sweet, often insightful drama of living with the problems of mental illness stressing the fact that no easy solutions are available and that understanding and tolerance for the key to living with the disease.

Trailer: 

PASSING (UK/USA 2021) ****

Directed by Rebecca Hall

PASSING follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

The English term PASSING refers to the practice of members of a minority, pretending to be white (or otherwise members of the majority culture) to escape prejudice.  This intentional thought provoking and often difficult to watch (in the good sense) film, adapted and directed by Rebecca Hall from the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen.  It should be noted that Hall, an actress of hits like GODZILLA VS. KONG and A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK, always cast as white characters, has a little black blood.  Her father is the famous London stage and film director Peter Hall (PERFECT FRIDAY, THREE INTO TWO WON’T GO) and her mother had Dutch and African ancestry.  It is of no surprise that the novella attracted her attention.  And her directorial debut is a detailed and meticulously delivered film in all departments notably in the acting, cinematography and set decoration.

From the first scene set in a NYC toy store, the audience sees a golliwog.  I had not seen one since I was a kid in Singapore.  The term golliwog is not known to the majority of North Americans.  It is a black doll, that is now no longer seen or made for anti-racist reasons.

Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) are two women of colour, former school friends who run into each other by chance in an upscale Manhattan hotel inNYC on a very hot summer day.   Irene is shocked to discover that Clare is passing as white and that her husband does not ‘know’.   The film that triggers extreme emotions for Irene.  Irene reluctantly allows Clare into her home, where she ingratiates herself to Irene’s husband (André Holland) and family, and soon her larger social circle as well.  As their lives become more deeply intertwined, Irene finds her once-steady existence upended by Clare, and PASSING becomes a riveting examination of obsession, repression and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities.

The decision to go for black and white works well into the plot.  Whether a character is black or white can hardly be distinguished in a black and white film.  One can only tell by the features.  Irene has distinct black features compared to Clare.

PASSING which premiered at this year’s Sundance, opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and soon on Netflix.

Trailer: 

 

RIVER’S END (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Jacob Morrison

Water is scarce and fought for in the state of California.  The film claims most Californians are ignorant of the matter.  Must think that it rains, they open their taps and water flows.  But if one has seen CHINATOWN, Roman Poslanksi’s 1963 classic, one would have been educated of the water shortage.

The film opens with the voiceover saying that water supply is the most widely and least understood issue around the world.

Jacob Morrison’s debut feature documentary, RIVER’S END explores the global water crisis, using California as a microcosm, though the film is largely set in California’s water supply problems.  (Morrison has produced series for VICELAND and Fullscreen, wrote and starred in a multi-episode explainer series for Vice, and directed a half-hour television pilot.)  The film reveals how water politics that led to the draining of the Owens Valley by Los Angeles, made famous by the film CHINATOWN, continue to this day in ongoing efforts to take ever more water from Northern California's San Francisco Bay estuary.  Except this time, the water grab is at the hands of industrial agriculture and its powerful corporate investors. RIVER’S END inspires viewers to learn where their water comes from so that we can save our rivers and the ecosystems and communities that depend upon them.  The evil corporation is again the villain and water flows where money flows.

Now wish director Morrison would also explore water problems outside California, outside the U.S. in other parts of the world.  Despite the fact, the film is clearly a careful researched study and an interesting one at that  about water  in California.  The saying: Get water first and to hell with the others - is clearly the concept of many rich folk.  The film warns with the words a father had said to his son:  “In the near future, we will be sitting at the water pump with a rifle.”

Kudos to director Morrison for managing to get Jason Coultier, a knowledgeable man who sits on both sides of the fence for answering questions.  Jason’s first words to the camera:”You are not going to piss me off, are you?’

This is the rare movie that puts down farmers as villains.  The rich farm owners live wealthy, out of the town where they hire and exploit poor workers staying in poor houses, while getting all the water for their farms at the expense of the ecosystem. And who supports them?  Millionaires like ex-President Trump.

Director Morrison cannot help but provide a clip, as expected from CHINATOWN.  “You either bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water,” says John Huston to Jack Nicholson in the film.

The film incites anger once again with the easy target of ex-President Trump.  His ignorant speech on 2 inch minnows and the water for the farmers once again shows his fight against the environment.  Those who, like myself, hate Trump will have fodder to hate this evil man even more.

RIVER’S END will be released on VOD in the US, Canada and UK on November 2.

 And VOD Platforms: Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu (US, Canada, UK).

Trailer: 

SNAKEHEAD (USA 2021) **
Directed by Evan Jackson Leung

A SNAKEHEAD is a smuggler of human refugees.  SNAKEHEAD tells the story of one snakehead, a woman who rises through the ranks of the gang that smuggled her into New York City, in Evan Jackson Leong’s fact-based debut feature.   The press notes say that the film is a decade-long labour of love for documentary filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong (LINSANITY).  The film is inspired by the real-life Cheng Chui Ping, a.k.a. Sister Ping (Shuya Chang), who ran one of the largest snakehead operations — gang-led human-smuggling rackets — for nearly 20 years before her arrest, as well as other ripped-from-the-headlines stories of human smuggling and organized crime in New York City’s Chinatown.   Sister Tse had paid a snakehead to get her to New York City so she could search for her daughter, who was adopted by a Chinese American family while Tse was in prison.   Uninterested in working at a massage parlour to pay back her astronomical smuggling debt, Sister Tse earns the respect of gang matriarch Dai Mah (Jade Wu) through her rebelliousness. Sister Tse quickly rises through the ranks, upsetting Dai Mah’s reckless but ambitious older son, Rambo (Sung Kang of Fast & Furious fame).  Like they say, the road to all is paved with good intentions.  The story comes across and has the feel of a B-action flick rather than a drama based on a true story.  Leung’s use of the camera, colour and flashbacks create a pretentiousness rather than artistry.  The only saving grace is Chang's performance.  Even Jade Wu’s performance as Dai May looks forced and stereotyped.

Trailer: 

 

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