Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
In 2020, a police officer murdered George Floyd in one of the most egregious cases of Black Lives Matter that has been documented to date. Two weeks later, an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, titled “We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd,” premiered. Hasan Minhaj talked about the racism and specifically the anti-Black expressions within the Asian and Asian immigrant community. Other films have also commented on the racial tensions between Asian and Black people, including Justin Chon’s Gook (2017). In fact, Tou Thao, an Asian American, was one of the police officers charged in connection to George Floyd’s death. Therefore, it makes sense that writer-director Aimee Long, a female filmmaker of Asian descent, would craft a feature, her debut in fact, on this subject that addresses racial tensions within the Asian community through the purview of a Black Lives Matter case.
Kenny Leu (Midway and The Long Road Home) stars as Mike Tan, a police officer working for the NYPD. He’s a street cop, patrolling an area in Brooklyn. He’s Chinese-American. He comes from immigrant parents. He’s currently dating a Black woman. He’s patrolling in the daytime with his partner, a White guy who teases Mike about his interracial relationship. His partner gets him to approach a group of Black teenagers, wearing backpacks. When one of those teens starts to run, Mike and his partner chase the teenage boy. Mike follows the boy to an apartment building and upstairs into a hallway. Right before he turns the corner, Mike pulls out his gun and accidentally fires it.
The bullet goes through a wall and ends up hitting a Black man in the kitchen of his apartment. Mike’s intention wasn’t to kill, but his actions leading up to that moment were arguably incorrect and did result in an innocent and unarmed man’s death. What’s strange is that Long’s film here provides Mike a lot of mitigating circumstances, mitigating circumstances that a lot of police officers in a lot of Black Lives Matter cases don’t have. In the case of Daunte Wright’s death in Minnesota, the police officer claimed that her firing her gun was an accident. Yet, her intention was to shoot at him. In the case of Breonna Taylor’s death in Kentucky, the police officers didn’t know they were shooting at her because she was behind a wall.
When Mike fired his gun, it was an accident on his part and his victim was behind a wall, so he didn’t even know his victim was hit for a while. However, in the Daunte Wright case and the Breonna Taylor case, the police officers’ intentions were to shoot at people. Long’s film takes that intention away from Mike. This is perhaps an attempt to make him more sympathetic and to put the audience more on his side. Given that Mike is the protagonist whose the main point-of-view here, it could be easy to dismiss it as undermining the argument of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Long does various subtle things to gently push the conversation toward police reform and critiquing expressions of anti-Blackness, no matter how seemingly mild.
A lot of those subtle things come from the presence of Candace Walker, played by (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash). She’s the Black woman dating Mike. She’s actually biracial. Her father is African American and is also a cop. When Mike’s shooting makes the news, Candace’s role as his girlfriend is either questioned or manipulated in order to help Mike’s case. The film provides enough of Candace as to see her walking a tight rope of being supportive of Mike but also feeling that what he did was wrong.
Tzi Ma (Mulan and Arrival) also co-stars as Chow Tan, the father to Mike. He’s a Chinese immigrant who lives with his wife in their nice home in Brooklyn. He’s most likely retired. He has two adult children. He has a daughter who is a doctor and he has his son, Mike. It’s clear that Chow and his wife weren’t happy about Mike becoming a police officer, but they support him as best they can. For example, it seems as if Mike still lives with his parents. Chow and his wife seem nice and well-meaning, but it’s revealed in subtle and not over-the-top ways that they are a bit racist and even homophobic, given that their daughter is a lesbian. Long’s film is clever and insightful in not portraying them as monsters but as people with their biases.
Michelle Wilson plays Felicia Wiggins, the mother to the victim that Mike kills. The film could have done more with her and given her more screen time. The film does have a trajectory that wants to end with us realizing the pain of a parent’s loss of their child. It wants to parallel the two mothers that are Felicia and Mike’s mother, May Tan, played by Fiona Fu (Kung Fu and Tigertail). Yet, I’m not sure the film totally lands that parallel by its end, but I appreciated the attempt.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Available on VOD, including Tubi.