Strippers in Manhattan are being stalked and maimed by a psycho-killer. A conflicted ex-boxer-turned-talent-manager and his business partner and friend, who represent some of the girls, set out to find him before he strikes again.
Billy Dee Williams,
A debauched Hollywood movie actor tries to piece together one wild night in Miami years earlier which remains a drug-induced blur, and soon finds out that some questions about his past are best left unanswered.
An artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings, and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and randomly killing derelicts with a power drill.
A timid and mute seamstress goes insane after being attacked and raped twice in one day, in which she takes to the streets of New York City after dark and randomly shoots men with a .45 caliber pistol.
quite dated and sometimes painfully corny, but also entertaining and occasionally intense
It should be given that Abel Ferrara and his writer Nicholas St. John knew what they were doing with China Girl. The influence of Romeo & Juliet would be first to come to mind, but I think it was even more-so West Side Story that must have loomed in their minds. Some of the influence is so painfully obvious as to seem like a rip-off (the main male character in love is even named Tony), and on a more immediate level of the period- the good ol' mid 1980's- things like hip-hop, synth-dance music, and of course Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' are inter-connected with the film. I almost expected in some of these gang-fight scenes to hear Eddie Van Halen's wicked guitar solo to come up on the soundtrack.
Oh, Ferrara does have his moments with the material, which is very basically about turf war between the Chinese in Chinatown and the Italians in Little Italy, with Canal street as the dividing line. There is some interest in how the conflict comes up when a Chinese restaurant pops up on the side of Little Italy - and yet the owner doesn't want to pay the usual protection fee to the Chinese gang just because he's Chinese. This spurs on some major problems, violence, and of course Tony and Tyan-Hwa at the center.
A flaw in the film is that we're never really sure why the two lovebirds are even in love with each other. Again, like Robbins/Wise's film, they spot each other from across the dance hall and have a dance, and their curiosity in each other, the ol' 'love-at-first-sight' thing. But it doesn't really gel as well with the gritty realism and street toughness of the rest of the picture; when Tony and Tyan-Hwa give each other sweet nothings ("How do you say 'I love you in Italian?" "How do you say it in Chinese?") it's some of the corniest material you've never seen. It's not that the actors are bad in their parts- the actress playing Tyan-Hwa has some tenderness to her that is nice for the production.
But there's some inconsistency with how the story flows, sometimes scene to scene. Here and there a memorable moment happens (RUN DMC's Walk This Way is the only thing to never get dated, for a great dance number), and the fighting scenes are well staged and intense. 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. And yet there's also some acting and writing that just doesn't work, period (what, for example, is David Caruso, a red-haired Irish guy, doing with a bunch of Italianos in this story, good as he might be), and the ending, while appropriately tragic and well-staged, doesn't fit the rest of the time Ferrara's after.
It's as if, basically, Ferrara decided to make his comment on West Side Story, give it some importance in a present-time setting of 1987, and the little-seen angle of Chinese-vs-Italian gangs, and make it rougher, less cheesy than its influences. But really, who wants realism when you've got love-at-first-sight? It's an interesting experiment that is a very mixed bag.
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