Snakehead (2021) 

A newly arrived immigrant works off her debt to the people who helped her get to America. In doing so, she finds herself working as a human smuggler and making some hard decisions along the way. 

Written and directed by Evan Jackson Leong, Snakehead takes on the story of one woman wanting to work towards a better life but not wanting to prostitute herself any long, thus making hard decisions that put others at risk and make her life seemingly better, at least for a time. The film here takes this story and goes the route of an engrossing drama instead of an action film as has been seen many times before. The story here is one most viewers will have seen a variation of before, but here it’s done in a way that grabs the viewer and doesn’t let them go until the very end. There is a lot in here and it’s done with just the right balance to makes it a film that one wants to watch and not one that is endured.  

The lead, playing Sister Tse, is Shuya Chang who does fantastic work here, giving her character depth and strength beyond the usual for this kind of part and makes her character a human with many facets beyond what is in the script. She makes Sister Tse what she is and makes the viewer care about her. Top billing but in a more secondary part almost is Sung Kang as Rambo. As the most known to Western audiences, he will be the draw for many watching this and he does great work here, giving Rambo the right personality and making him just unlikable enough, but not so much that one will not want to watch him throughout the film. Another strong performance is that of Jade Wu as Dai Mah. Here Wu exudes confidence and a quiet power that is scary at times and imposing for the rest of her screen time. She really steals scenes left and right when she is on screen. 

Snakehead has strong writing, directing, and performances and these are showcased using the beautiful cinematography by Ray Huang. The images here bring NYC to life in a grey and emotional way that is hard to explain in writing, but will make sense to those who take the time to watch the movie. The film focuses on Chinatown and gives a new view of it, not the tourist-y view many films have and not the crime-laden (though crime does happen here) many films and tv shows give it. Here Chinatown is almost a character, one that is melancholy and full of life wanting to burst through. There is something in how it all frames the characters and the story that fits just right and makes the images marry perfectly with the film overall. 

Snakehead is a crime drama that is heavy on the character-driven scenes. It’s a strong outing in its sub-genre and it makes for a great watch that is melancholy, but not supremely heavy. The film looks and sounds amazing with performances that pull the viewer to them and make them want to see what happens next. It’s by no means an action film, but it’s one that moves at a decent pace, never feeling too long or like it could use some more editing. It’s the kind of film that is a must see just for the acting, something that makes it a stronger film than expected here.