Premiering at Toronto International Film Festival, Snakehead, directed by Evan Jackson Leong, delivers a new twist on an old narrative when Sister Tse (Shuya Chang) is brought to New York’s Chinatown by a Snakehead, a human trafficker. Her toughness and determination catches the eye of the crime family’s matriarch (Jade Wu), propelling her through the ranks for the organization. Though her rise gains her the favor of the matriarch, it isn’t long before her actual reason for traveling to the US comes at odds with her newfound success.
I had a great time watching Snakehead for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, so I was delighted that I got a chance to speak with Leong. The director talks not only about the long journey bringing this film to the big screen, but also his personal journey as a primarily documentary director to making a narrative film.
Chang and Wu also joined me for the discussion to talk about crafting their individual characters as well as their relationship as surrogate mother/daughter relationship in the film. We also get into how this film is a uniquely American story. Chang being a newcomer to Hollywood lit up the screen with her pensive performance as Sister Tse. Likewise, veteran actress Wu infused Dai Mah with equal parts nurturing and menace.
If you’re interested in knowing more about it, the story of Snakehead is inspired by the real life story of Sister Ping, chronicled in the book The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld. Ping ran a human trafficking ring in the 1980s and 1990s in New York’s Chinatown.
Although this film is about Sister Tse’s rise through organized crime and shows her conflict with other members of the family, its strength is in the relationship between Sister Tse and Dai Mah, who may or may not have seen seen a bit of herself in her new protege. Whenever Chang and Wu are in a scene together, the film really arrests you. I highly recommend you check it out if for no other reason than to see them on screen together.
Premiering at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, Snakehead will be available in theaters and on digital release 29 October. Written and Directed by Evan Jackson Leong, the film stars Shuya Chang, Jade Wu, and Sung Kang.