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'China Girl' is easily Abel Ferrara's most conventional and commercial movie to date. Thankfully it improves on his previous movie 'Fear City', which was too compromised and "Hollywood" to succeed. The story is a basic updating of Romeo And Juliet set against the background of Chinese and Italian gang rivalry. Newcomers Richard Panebianco and Sari Chang play Tony and Tye the ill fated lovers who continue their forbidden romance against pressure from their family and friends. Neither actor has went on to all that much but they are both more than adequate and make a sweet couple. The real action comes from solid performances by James Russo ('Donnie Brasco'), David Caruso ('Kiss Of Death'), Russell Wong ('The Prophecy 2'), Paul Hipp ('Teenage Caveman') and Joey Chin ('Year Of The Dragon'), many of whom went on to work with Ferrara on later projects. It was also good to see Judith Malina ('Dog Day Afternoon') and veteran character actor James Hong ('Big Trouble in Little China') in supporting roles. While by no means as flamboyant and confrontational as Ferrara's best known work, this is a surprisingly entertaining story which should appeal to a much wider audience than his "difficult" but rewarding movies such as the stunning 'Bad Lieutenant' or the fascinating 'The Addiction'. This movie doesn't deserve its obscurity and is well worth a rental.
Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet' has been made on screen so many times and
'China Girl' is my favorite one. I agree that this is not a greate movie
even romantic one. However, I like this movie for it's truthful depiction
love and hate.
In 'China Girl', the bosses of Italian and Chinese gang make endless tension between their gangs to maintain their power in families. Unlike orginal play, these two poor lovers' death couldn't solve their fmilies' hatred but made it worse. Se la vie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"China Girl" is a good, updated version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and
Juliet." The film, which centers on the forbidden romance between
Italian-American Tony (Tony Panebianco) and Chinese-American Tye (Sari
Chang), is not great, but brings this ancient story of "star-cross'd
lovers" to new generations. Shakespeare's language is beautiful, but in
this day of short attention spans among our young people he can come
across as old and stodgy. Showing this film (along with "Brooklyn
Babylon," "West Side Story," "Rocky Road," "William Shakespeare's Romeo
+ Juliet," "Pretty in Pink," "Romeo Must Die!" and of course, the 1968
classic adaptation, "Romeo and Juliet" by Franco Zeferrelli) can
introduce young people to Shakespeare in school, since "Romeo and
Juliet" is one of his most famous stories. Young people can realize how
timeless Shakespeare's story is, and how it can apply to today's world.
The movie: Tony and Tye meet at a nightclub and fall in love, despite the fact that their ethnic factions are fighting against each other for turf through gang warfare. I agree with previous reviews that the supporting actors are much better than the leads, even though Panebianco and Chang are attractive and impressive in their first roles. The movie is action-packed, containing several fight scenes and one particular scene of graphic violence at the end. There is also a lot of profanity, so viewers should be forewarned. I felt it was strange, however, that for a movie with a supposedly passionate love story, the sex scene was pretty disappointing and actually unsexy! Despite these caveats, though, I think "China Girl" is a good movie and I wish it had done better at the box office. Maybe some cable movie channel can show this film back-to-back with other "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired films for one day, so viewers can see the similarities and differences among the various films. Now that's something that I would like to see! I give this movie an 8 out of 10.
Chinese gangs vs. Italian gangs in NYC in 1987. Tony (Richard Panebianco)
and Tye (Sari Chang) meet and fall in love. Meanwhile Tye's brother hates
all Italians and Tony's friends hate Chinese.
If you've seen "West Side Story" you know how this ends--but a bit more tragically in this movie. Plotwise it's very obvious but it's beautifully done. Filmed with energy, beautifully atmospheric (the sets and lighting are incredible), and full of bursts of ultraviolence. Most of the roles are well acted, especially by James Russo, David Caruso (chewing the scenery) and Russell Wong. As the young lovers Panebianco and Chang are, unfortunately, not that good. In a way it's understandable--he was only 16 when this was made and it's the first role for both. They're both very attractive (Panebianco is pretty buff with a baby face; Chang is delicate and beautiful) but have little to do other than kiss and act like they love each other. That isn't believable either since they have zero sexual chemistry. Still, they are sympathetic characters. Also, in a nice touch, Panebianco shows more skin than Chang in their sex scene.
This is really obscure and it doesn't deserve it. 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 (Whatever happened to him? He showed a lot of promise.). That's too bad--this deserves a bigger audience. Worth watching on cable or renting.
Director Abel Ferrara hit's the street's with this modern take on
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set amongst waring Italian and Chinese
this is more so the younger generation
as the much older and
wiser mafia / triad figures set out for peace so they don't draw
unwanted attention from the man in blue. 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.
There's no real surprises to the old hat, if simply low-key material (which was penned by Ferrara's collaborator Nicholas St. John), as we pretty much know how this dangerous story plays out and eventually finishes, however director Ferrara has a gritty, but devoted style and upbeat tempo that's uniquely his own that elevates the conventional framework with his striking eye for a sense of place and powerfully lasting imagery that's uncompromising. He does more than just direct from the screenplay. The concentration on the tough, smoky urban setting (with excellent location photography of New York's bordering neighbourhoods Chinatown and little Italy), helps build a seedy atmosphere where hatred and violence is simply waiting to boil over, as obsession and pride becomes a death wish. Ferrara polarises it very well, especially the conflict not between (which is still quite blistering), but within the same races seeking out honour in who they are ---- this is where it was at its strongest, because the forbidden love angle (while important to the plot's progression) did stall and take away from some of the underlining tension. Although outside of its pushy race card slant, it does feel like it's just building up these explosive acts to glorify its foreseeable conclusion. Joe Delia's melancholy score fits in perfectly.
The performances are down-to-earth and genuinely projected by its cast. Richard Panebianco and Sari Chang are sympathetically touching as the two lovebirds. An admirable James Russo and especially a hot-headed David Caruso bring an unstoppable intensity to their roles. Russell Wong is quite laid-back in a sound performance, in his quest to please his elders by controlling his gang and that of his wayward sister. Journeyman actor James Hong pops up, as well as Robert Miano as heavies.
You might call it lesser Ferrara compared to his other works, but it's involving and efficiently handled with his trademark raw and brutal edge shining through.
William Shakespeare's eternal tale of young love gets yet another
version in China Girl. Despite the racial tensions between the Chinese
of Chinatown and the shrinking Italian population of Little Italy, Sari
Chang and Richard Panebianco find each other and find love. Now if only
those who might become their prospective in-laws will stop the hate.
China Girl was filmed completely on location in New York's neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown. As the film says Little Italy where the fabled fictional Godfather had the Genco Olive Oil company is shrinking block by block as the Italians move out and a huge influx of Orientals move in and expand Chinatown. China Girl was done in 1987 so in twenty years the trend is exacerbated.
Players like James Russo, Russell Wong, and David Caruso have all gone on to bigger and better things, they're certainly more known than the leads are now. Still Panebianco and Chang are an attractive pair of kids.
The soundtrack is typical music from the Eighties in keeping with the times. Don't expect any songs for the ages like there were in West Side Story.
China Girl is a nice retelling of Romeo and Juliet a story that as long as there's life on planet Earth will never go out of style.
China Girl was a hip and very violent movie, I wish I saw at the cinema, when I had the chance. Italian boy falls for Chinese Girl-true romance, a reciprocated love. Now, here's the impasse: they're both related to warring gangs, even though the Italians, really the good guys, do have it in for the Chinese, where this Chinese Gang are part of a mafia, merely puppets on a string. When the Italian boy, Gino (an impressive Richard Panebianco) narrowly escapes having his lights punched out, when chased by the Chinese gang, the head the lovestruck girl's brother, this doesn't detur him or her, from further progressing the relationship, where they keep sneaking off like little children, despite warnings from their older protectors. As Wong, an Asian actor I love watching, says to her little Sis, Thai (an equally impressive Sari Chang) "You don't understand, you're nothing but a chink to them". I appreciated Wong's honesty, here, where honor runs high among this race. Wong was never truer in his words, too. Gino's older brother, Alby, and his friends are racist goons. In particular is red haired Caruso, who I loved in this, despite playing a d..khead immature character of loathing. One scene has him ordering egg rolls, while disrespectfully making squinting eyes at some Asian cooks nearby, while also insulting the ones serving him. Now that's a d..khead. Panebianco sets him straight defending the Chinese, where a physical fight almost ensues. It would of been good to see how it ended up, if Russo hadn't stepped in, but we know all too well, that Caruso would of one won, ending this conversation by getting Panebianco in a headlock, simmering him, then cutting him loose, where Panebianco would of just shrugged him off, and walked away. It is too, the worst fitting time, for these gangs to be in an escalating turf war, a war which of course, is also personal, caused by our love struck duo, as the Asian and Italian mafia head are trying to make a peace, a business negotiation. This is complicated by the arch enemy gangs, feuding, the main plot of the story, which I really liked. China Girl has great pumping music, it's finale song, I loved, after one of the most memorable and tragic climaxes I've seen. It's a simple message told throughout it's story, the consequences of hate and racism, that we don't just have to view it on screen. The exterior shot settings of Chinatown, and the Italian hood are well chosen. This Romeo and Juliet tale, minus the happy ending, but with stylized violence, a plus, has some great action sequences, one involving a shootout I loved, that ended with Caruso's crazed look, as he mouthed "Mother fu..ers" through clenched teeth. China Girl has it all, where the action/blood craving viewer will get his three dollars worth. One of the '88 movie treats. One of Ferrara's best. Personally, China Girl is his favorite, in his list of filmographies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of my favorite films of the 80's.
I never get tired of watching it.
The combo of the cinematography and the musical score makes it a winner for me.
The theme of Chinatown vs Little Italy leaves a bitter after taste but it is somewhat essential for the 'Romeo & Juliet' storyline that it seems to follow.
The two young leads as the sweet but doomed lovers 'Tye & Tony', Richard Panebianco and Sari Chang, did an OK job. It's I believe their film debuts. They really didn't have any chemistry together but they look good and cute together and they tried. I feel Panebianco was doing his best imitation of John Travolta's Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever (1977)! LOL He was portraying an Italian named Tony however so...
James Russo as his older brother 'Alby' (Alberto), did a better job. Even though he was billed the leading star I felt his role was a supporting one. I don't know why, but Russo always seems shorter on film but in real life he is 5'11! Man, what the camera does to you!
David Caruso as 'Mecury', Russo's right-hand man is as intense and hyper I had seen Caruso do in acting. Here Caruso just let's go like a pit bull. He really stands out with his red hair. He looks more Irish than Italian but maybe he is a mix. His one scene where they are after the Chinese gang members, and they escape, he goes 'bananas' and starts shooting off his machine gun just everywhere! He really went 'ape sh*t' in that moment!
Russell Wong as the leader of the Chinese gang and older brother to Tye, did a very subdue and great job. I actually could see he and Tye as brother and sister. He really essayed being torn between his loyalty to the gang which includes his hot-wire cousin Tsu Shin played by a good and believable Joey Chin and the main Chinese Mob Boss Gung Tu played by the great and wonderful character actor, James Hong.
Robert Miano plays the head Wiseguy,Enrico Perit, that Russo answers to. he did a good job also. His scene with Russo was all "Soprano" worthy.
Oh and before I forget, the one gang member of the Chinese gang who really stood out for me was the bulky and muscular guy. I don't know what his name was in the movie so I can't tell which one he is in the credits but he must have impressed Ferrara because this 'Bolo Yeung-looking dude' had his very own death scene! After being shot in the arm by Caruso, he escapes and makes it to his hideout and treats his wound and falls asleep. Where he is awakened by Hong's Gung Tu's henchmen who is there and stabs him in the chest! He is so strong that he gets up and takes the knife out and raises it to use it on the henchmen when another knife through the back finishes him off. It was one of Miano's Enrico Perit's henchmen. So all in all a great end to this muscular but evil young gang member.
All in all, a great film. Like I said, one of my all-time favorites. I highly recommended it. It deserves a least one good viewing in your lifetime.
China Girl (1987) was an urban take on the classic Shakespeare play
Romeo and Juliet (courtesy of Nicholas St. John). The film was directed
by the gritty street level film maker Abel Ferrara. Instead of the
Capulets and the Montaques, this version involves two crime families
(the Italian Mafia and Chinese Triads). Not only is this film about
true love but it's about honor and old school loyalty. Instead of
trying to follow the source material verbatim, Ferrara re-invents the
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.
In the 80's, in New York City, the teenager Anthony "Tony" (Richard
Panebianco) lives in Little Italy and works making pizza dough in a
pizzeria. He goes to a nightclub, where he meets the gorgeous Chinese
teenager Tye (Sari Chang) and they dance together. However the Chinese
street gang led by Tsu Shin (Joey Chin) chases him, but he is saved by
the Italian gang led by his older brother Alberto "Alby" (James Russo).
Meanwhile Tsu Shin decides to blow-up a Chinese restaurant in Little
Italy with two other gang members against the will of Yung Gan (Russell
Wong), who is Tye's brother and real leader of the gang. His action
provokes the wrath of Mr. Gung Tu (James Hong), who is the lord of the
Chinese mafia. On the other side, Alby, his right arm and friend
Mercury (David Caruso) and their gang decide to go to Chinatown in
reprisal to the Chinese attack and the Italian mobster Enrico Perito
(Robert Miano) warns them to respect the boundary of their neighborhood
since there is a mafia agreement of the leaders. However Tony and Tye
fall in love with each other and keep secretly seeing each other in the
middles of the conflict between gangs with tragic consequences.
"China Girl" is probably one of the most commercial work of Abel Ferrara. Nevertheless it is a great film supported by magnificent direction and top-notch performances. The story of love and ethnic prejudice in tow close communities in New York City, Little Italy and Chinatown, slightly recalls the storyline of "Romeo and Juliet" and is closer indeed to the "West Side Story". Richard Panebianco and the gorgeous Sari Chang stopped their careers in the middle 90's despite their great performances. Last but not the least, thirty years after its release, "China Girl" has not aged and is still worthwhile watching. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Inimigos Pelo Destino" ("Enemies by Destiny")
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