Snakehead (USA, 2021)

A young woman finds herself in a dark criminal world in this gripping and at times intense drama from Evan Jackson Leong.

Tse Mei-Ying, affectionately known as “Sister”, has come to New York to find her long lost daughter. However, she has come to the country illegally and is forced to work at a local brothel to pay off the debt she owes to the Snakehead, the boss of the crime family who brought her to the U.S. That Snakehead is Dai Mah, who upon learning Sister fought off one of the pimps to within an inch of their lives, Dai Mah has something else than punishment in store for Sister.

Instead of punishing her, Dai Mah sees potential in Sister and invites her to join them. As Dai Mah mentors Sister and gives her a chance to be in charge of the very thing she was part of, smuggling immigrants for Dai Mah. Sister’s prospect draws the ire of Rambo, Dai Mah’s son who is seen by his mother as a volatile hothead who could jeopardize the organization should she make him the eventual boss. What will happen as Sister Tse continues her

“I do not believe in the American Dream. I just know how to survive.” This is the famous line of this film, written and directed by Evan Jackson Leong. The line is told by protagonist Sister Tse, played in a breakout performance by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’s Shuya Chang. Chang exhibits a raw emotional edge in the role of a young woman who comes to New York from Taiwan to find the daughter she lost years ago. From the use of flashbacks that lead up to Sister’s voyage to learning the truth, that piece of the story moves on before it focuses on the core plot of the film.

The heart of the film is the mentor-protégé relationship between Sister Tse and Dai Mah, the latter played by veteran Jade Wu. As the titular Snakehead, Wu gives off an authoritative vibe the second she appears on screen. What makes this more interesting is that Dai Mah sees more potential in her new protégé than her own flesh and blood. This causes a sense of resentment on the part of Rambo, played by Fast and Furious alum Sung Kang. Rambo is perhaps the only flaw of the film as Kang isn’t given much to do but go over the top as much as possible and sometimes even act like a cry baby because well, it’s clear he has mommy issues.

There are some intense moments in the film that coincide well with the emotional core of the film, such as Sister Tse showing how tough she is when she confronts one of Dai Mah’s “pimps” by beating the heck out of him to the point where it becomes the catalyst of her induction into the organization. There is also a major smuggling job in which Sister goes to a small island near China then finds herself nearly caught when the group must make their way through Mexico. This leads to a shocking twist in the story that leads to an unexpected finale.

Snakehead has some very minimal flaws, but a breakout performance by Shuya Chang drives the story of a protégé rising through the ranks of a criminal organization. Some nice twists here and there, plus Chang’s chemistry with Jade Wu being the heart of the film, this is one worth checking out.

WFG RATING: B

Samuel Goldwyn Films presents a 408 Films/Arowana Films production in association with King Street Pictures and Valiant Pictures. Director: Evan Jackson Leong. Producers: Anson Ho, Dan Mark, Evan Jackson Leong, and Brian Yang. Writer: Evan Jackson Leong. Cinematography: Ray Huang. Editing: Evan Jackson Leong, Greg Louie, and Chelsea Taylor.

Cast: Shuya Chang, Jade Wu, Sung Kang, Devon Diep, Perry Yung, Jamie Choi, Sandra Eloani, Amy Tsang, Eric Elizaga, Branden Smith, Celia Au.

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