By Shirley Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Snakehead premiered at the Asian American International Film Festival at a red carpet opening night festival event in New York City Wednesday night.
Directed by Evan Jackson Leong, the film tells the story of a young immigrant, “Sister Tse,” who is caught up in the dark underworld of human smuggling. Her dreams to live a normal life and to find a young daughter she left behind in China becomes a story of personal struggle and survival.
Snakehead is loosely based on true events in NYC’s Chinatown – the largest apprehension of 286 undocumented immigrants. They came in on a cargo ship called the Golden Venture which arrived to New York from China in 1993, but ran aground on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.
Cheng Chui Ping, aka “Sister Ping as played by Shuya Chang,” was the snakehead that masterminded the tragic voyage plus countless thousands more for years. In 2014, Sister Ping died from cancer while in prison.
At the red carpet, AsAmNews scored a brief interview with the director. We are the proud media presenting sponsor of the festival.
AsAmNews: What made you want to tell the story about human smuggling?
Leong: I was excited to tell the story about strong powerful women, the matriarchs of Chinatown. I had matriarchs in my life and I felt they were never portrayed in the way I knew them. For me, it is a way of celebrating who they are.
AsAmNews: In researching for your film, what were some new discoveries about these characters or true events you based your film on?
Chinatown has a lot of secrets, the under world, things that we don’t know about. You walk down the streets at night, you can tell the street has stories. Everyone in Chinatown has a story to tell. I’m excited about real life stories and how people are, and I met some of the real life people characterized in the film and now we see them in a different light.
AsAmNews: What part of the movie was important for you to convey to the audience?
Leong: The visuals and beauty of Chinatown. That was one of the most important things, to do. To make Chinatown a character and to preserve it in that moment.
AsAmNews: Could there have been anything you could have done differently or have added in after the film was made?
Leong: I’m a first time filmmaker, from a narrative sense it’s a very different craft than making a documentary. Every scene had countless things I would change, but at the same time, art is art. It’s a reflection of you at a time and as long as you give it your all ,people will see that.
AsAmNews: What do you want the audience to take away from the story and the characters you portrayed?
Leong: I want people to believe in the characters that I created and to see the beauty of Chinatown in the way I see it.
Leong doesn’t believe his film about human smuggling and the characters has any political or social issue message. He just wants people to see it as it is and to decipher it on their own.
The premiere ended with a reception at, Sour Mouse, an Asian owned bar nearby the theatre.
Leong is already thinking about his next film project about a Chinese American U.S. marshal set during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
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