Transcribed to 80’s New York with the opposing forces now becoming the warring Chinese American and Italian American factions of that city, Brutality and romance are equally heightened in this 1987 flick. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ has been made on screen so many times and ‘China Girl’ might just be my favorite one. That drawback, obviously, is that there’s no real surprises to the old hat, as this dangerous story plays out and eventually finishes. It had almost no release in 1987 (there were no stars to sell it) and was never a big hit on cable or video. Also Chang never made another movie and Panebianco disappeared after making a few more films. So it is indeed a tragedy.
The Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli, who went on to do fantastic work on Ferrara’s iconic “King of New York”, captures the neon reflected wet streets of New York to perfection. There’s a few fascinating supporting or minor roles, like James Hong as Gung Tu, the head of the Chinese crime family who, most wisely, wants just peace and quiet between the rivals. I happen to be a big fan of Abel Ferrara. His style of film making is very unique and it’s greatly missed in Hollywood. We need more directors like him. Someone who not only can make a movie on the cheap but produce a well thought-out film that’ll force you to think and look outside the box. When a Director of Abel’s stature is working in his favourite environment, with an equally astute eye looking through the camera lens to capture on screen what’s going through his mind, the film can’t help but look and feel marvellous.
Things do tend to get sappy in this movie, and aside from the point about senseless gang violence, there is not much else going on. The writers go slightly overboard in bogging down the audience with this point, that they forgot to put in some filler. That may seem contradictory to the previous statements, however, China Girl also seems to prevent a tone from director Abel Ferrer which becomes much more evident and much more forceful in his 1996 film, The Funeral, which is a sadly underrated movie about the perpetration of gang life through three mafioso brothers. However these young-guns make it a battleground and caught between it is two love-struck lovers; a Chinese girl Tayn-Hwa and Italian lad Tony Monte. They don’t care about colour or race, despite what’s happening all around them and what it could do to them or even loved ones.
Watching this movie I am also reminded of the notorious Vietnamese Gang known as BTK (Born To Kill), who also prowled the streets of Chinatown around the time this film was put out. Again, this movie tells a truly pure tale without watering anything down. Ferrara seems to be morphing “Do The Right Thing” with “Year Of The Dragon” in his depiction of the older Italian “Wiseguys” and thier Chinese counterparts, the Triad leaders, making deals in back rooms while the youth gangs engage in open racism and fight for continued segregation. As usual, you get the impression that Ferrara just tells his cast to “go for it”, so there’s a lot of yelling and angsty expressionism on display as everyone tries to out-James-Dean each other. Still, the energy does hold your interest, and the neon New York cinematography is artful in a noirish way. Recommended.