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TIFF 2021: “Snakehead”


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, ability to grow on the social ladder and countless opportunities to do a job your heart desires. That’s the definition of the American dream. But is that how it turns out for dreamers, illegal immigrants, or people that were smuggled into the great land? Does society treat them the same way they treat one of their own?

“Snakehead” follows Tse Mei-Ying (Shuya Chang), who left her home country for the United States, to find her daughter that was adopted by an Asian American. However, after arriving in New York, the woman is forced to work as a prostitute to pay back $57,000 to Dai Ma (Jade Wu), the woman known as the Snakehead. During one of the encounters, Tse proves to be reliable and more useful than doing the job she was asked to do. Her strength and determination help her grow in Ma’s eyes, causing envy and jealousy to Ma’s son, Rambo (Sung Kang).

Based on true events, director Evan Jackson Leong recreates a dark underground place in New York’s Chinatown, showing the danger of people like Dai Ma, who looks at illegal immigrants as if they were cargo. With no regard for human life, empathy or anything that would showcase the presence of a kind heart, Tse quickly realizes – her journey towards survival has just started. She gets closer to Dai Ma, makes herself useful. But Tse is not someone to mess with.

Tse is fearless and strong. She can be ruthless if she wants to. And she is where she needs to be. But when the time comes, to choose what is right and what is wrong, Tse will have to face the turning point in her life, and make the decision that will change everything not only for her but for the people around her, including her own daughter.

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