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CHINA GIRL (director: Abel Ferrara; screenwriter: Nicholas St. John; cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli; editor: Anthony Redman; music: Joe Delia; cast: James Russo (Alby Monte), David Caruso (Mercury), Sari Chang (Tye), Richard Paneblanco (Tony Monte), Russell Wong (Yung Gan), Joey Chin (Tsu Shin), James Hong (Gung Tu), Robert Miano (Enrico Perito), Judith Malina (Mrs. Monte), Paul Hipp (Nino); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Michael Nozik; Vestron Video; 1987)
“Ripping reworking of Romeo and Juliet, that’s set in modern-day Manhattan’s Chinatown and Little Italy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Abel Ferrara (“King of New York”/”Cat Chaser”/”The Driller Killer”) forcefully directs this ripping reworking of Romeo and Juliet, that’s set in modern-day Manhattan’s Chinatown and Little Italy. It’s a well-produced and energetic bloodbath exploitation pic, with excellent location shots of both Chinatown and Little Italy. Where it stumbles, is when it pauses as a frantic youth street gang pic, delivering with aplomb the stylized violence expected, and goes instead sentimental as it tries to make its less than heartfelt points about racial hatred and revenge with violence as a never ending cycle.

The main plot involves Italian-American teenage pizza boy, Tony (Richard Panebianco), working in his family business, who falls for Chinese porcelain sweetie Tye (Sari Chang) he meets at a lower Manhattan dance spot and though warned by her slightly older gangster brother guardian Yung Gan (Russell Wong) and his Chinese gang to stay away from the Italians she still secretly meets him. Tony gets the same warning from older brother Alby (James Russo).

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When the youths tangle, the smoothie elder gangsters from both communities (James Howe & Robert Miano) vow to have peace so as not to call attention to their adjacent neighborhoods and bring on a police investigation. But the agitated Tsu Shin (Joey Chin), Yung’s aspiring gangster cousin and best friend, looking desperately for a piece of the action, disobeys the Chinese crime boss and bombs Alby’s family pizza store. With that all hell breaks loose and it can’t be stopped without many more deaths, despite the efforts of the elders. The deaths include the Chinese teen bomber getting knifed to death by both the mafia and Chinese gang, Alby knifed in the hallway of his building and dying while bleeding to death in his mother’s arms and the star-crossed lovers gunned down on the streets of Chinatown.

Ferrara goes for overkill gore while the screenplay by Nicholas St. John never gets us that involved in the main love story, which is too thin to be taken as seriously as it is in the storyline. Things flip back and forth between a Mean Streets and West Side Story flick, but the revved up fight scenes in the back alleys and blood-curling tension during the San Gennaro Festival remain more watchable than the inane love scenes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”