Made in Chinatown (2021)

What happens when a Chinese man wants to join the Italian Mafia? The answer lies in this goofball martial arts satire from the duo of Robert Samuels and James Lew

Since being a kid, all Vincent Chow wanted was to be a wiseguy in the Italian Mafia. His father, a local grocer in Chinatown, always questions why “Vinny” acts more like a wiseguy and not staying true to his Chinese culture. Vinny also questions why he must learn kung fu, as he has trained in Fu Jow Pai for many years. His realization soon comes in the form of Tina DiPocco, an Italian woman who Vinny has known since they were teens. He wants to be a wiseguy because he has a major crush on her and knows she likes wiseguys.

Meanwhile, a war is set to break out in New York City. Manhattan boss Al Capella and Brooklyn boss Amadore Condimento are at odds with each other as they move their products into each other’s turfs. Meanwhile, Crime Commission Sean O’Greedy is up for re-election and wants them along with Chinatown boss Hung Phat to get along. However, O’Greedy is actually in cahoots with Phat to make sure the Italians take each other out. When Condimento decides to find a way to put Phat in the middle of their war by pushing olive oil in Chinatown, he finds the perfect stooge to do the job: Vinny!

Since its inception in 2017, there were many changes to the cast and crew to this film, including the likes of Art Camacho and Suza Singh set to direct and even legendary martial arts star Hwang Jung-Lee attached to appear. Finally, we are given the duo of Robert Samuels and James Lew, two veterans of the martial arts action film in Hong Kong and the U.S. respectively, as the directors and Hwang replaced in what is ultimately a cameo by another legendary kung fu star, Chiu Chi-Ling.

The film is told in flashback by our lead character, Vinny Chow, played by newcomer Jay Kwon, a baby-faced action talent who brings the fun in action and the funny with his performance of a Chinese man desperate to be in the Italian Mafia. Which brings us to another cast change. Kwon replaces renowned stuntman and stunt coordinator Alfred Hsing after two more actors weren’t able to take the role. Kwon makes the most of his role knowing full well what this movie is meant to be: a satirical mashup of mobster movies and martial arts films.

And for the most part, it’s pretty fun to watch. Seeing Tony Darrow and Vincent Pastore as rival mob bosses Capella and Condimento (whose name is literal considering his business) while the legendary Toad Venom, Lo Meng, is Hung Phat, Chinatown’s mob boss. Hearing Lo do the evil laugh as heard during the classic kung fu era is quite a hoot. Raymond J. Barry makes the most of his role as Sean O’Greedy, New York Crime Commissioner and all-around corrupt scumbag who plans to take advantage of the Italians’ ongoing rivalry so he and Phat can rule the city. Shuya Chang and Theresa Moriarty play the woman in Vinny’s life, the former the typical childhood friend with a crush on him and the latter the Italian woman Vinny pines for and is partly why he wants to become a wiseguy.

James Lew doubles as both co-director and fight choreographer. The fights are a mixed bag. Some fights look good while others suffer from an abundance of slow-motion use that almost is overkill. To see Lo Meng take on various kung fu experts is not too bad. The highlight is the final fight, an all-out rumble where Vinny is in the middle of it and this fight has its share of the good when things are at normal speed and the bad in terms of the slow-motion overkill. It doesn’t take away the fact that Kwon does have some pretty nifty martial arts skills that he gets to use. As a bonus, legendary Tiger Claw Kung Fu master Tak Wah Eng plays Vinny’s sifu in the film who acts as a mentor when needed.

Ultimately, Made in Chinatown makes its intention known. It is a pretty funny satirical meshing of mobster flicks and kung fu. However, the overabundance of slow-motion in the fight scenes tend to hinder the overall film more than make it more fun. Nevertheless, Jay Kwon is a face to look for and the film itself is a middle of the road.

WFG RATING: C

Vision Films presents a Nine East Productions film in association with Tambuli Media. Directors: Robert Samuels and James Lew. Producers: Mark V. Wiley, Gine Lui, and Shing Ka. Writer: Mark V. Wiley. Cinematography: Derrick Berry. Editing: Mark Steven Grove, Robert Jefferson, and Marty Krzywonos.

Cast: Jay Kwon, Tony Darrow, Vincent Pastore, Lo Meng, Raymond J. Barry, Theresa Moriarty, Shuya Chang, Paul Borghese, Timothy Chivalette, Eric Kovaleski, William DeMeo, Tony Ray Rossi, Master Tak Wah Eng, Chiu Chi-Ling, Geoff Lee, Shing Ka.

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