Evan Jackson Leong’s film, Snakehead, depicts the life of an illegal Chinese immigrant, Tse Mei-ying. Sister Tse lost her daughter 8 years ago and thus came to America illegally to find her daughter. She gives 50 thousand dollars to Chinese human smugglers known as Snakeheads to provide passage to America.
The film follows her journey to accomplish her only dream in the world, but she has a debt to pay the Snakeheads before visiting her daughter. The struggle and the conflict keep the viewers engaged as they watch a lonely mother fighting against all odds. The thrilling adventure is written and directed by Evan Jackson Leong and stars Shuya Chang in the lead role.
‘Snakehead’ Plot Summary
8 years ago, Tse Mei-Ying (also known as Sister Tse) and her husband were arrested by police authorities. Tse was sent to prison for 8 years while her daughter was adopted in New York. In prison, Tse made a vow to find her daughter at all costs.
Tse makes a deal with Chinese human smugglers, Snakeheads, in Taiwan. She agrees to become a prostitute for them in exchange for a passage to America. Tse owes 57 thousand dollars to Snakeheads and hence starts working under a Chinese Mafia, Dai Mah, also known as Pearl Ho, the leader of Snakeheads. Dai Mah rules Chinatown and lives with her oldest son, Rambo (Sung Kang), who has recently come out of prison after serving prison time for killing his alcoholic father in childhood while protecting his mother, Dai Mah.
Dai Mah gets impressed by Sister Tse’s ferociousness and anger. She takes Tse out of the prostitution ring and hires Tse as a debt collector for her illegal trades. While working for Dai Mah, Tse locates her daughter. She decides to approach her daughter once her debt is cleared, but in the pursuit to pay the debts, Tse slowly becomes a part of the underworld.
The Struggle for Succession
Rambo was envious of Dai Mah’s likeness towards Tse. Though Rambo was her loyal son, Dai Mah knew that he was hot-headed and reckless. To rule the Chinatown underworld, she needed a more poised and brutal heir, like Sister Tse.
Rambo nastily threatened Tse and made it loud and clear that she was just an errand rat for his mother. He wanted to get rid of Tse. Tse, on the other hand, didn’t have any interest in ruling Chinatown. She just wanted to clear her debts and go back to her daughter.
To prove his worth, Rambo started smuggling drugs. He commanded Tse to assist him in his illegal empire, but Tse refused to participate. It created another cold war between the two. For Snakeheads, smuggling people to America was like smuggling commodities. They smuggled humans in unsafe and unhygienic conditions, but Tse was different. She had been in a container and thus knew how it felt like to be contained inside.
Trusting Tse’s humanity, a worker from Uncle Beth’s seafood company approached Tse to smuggle his wife and kid to America. The worker didn’t trust Dai Mah. Tse requested him to keep the deal a secret between them. After Rambo’s failed smuggling gig, where 38 bodies were found frozen dead in a truck, the FBI started following Tse. As soon as the workers’ family arrived in Chinatown, an FBI agent arrested Tse, and Dai Mah learned about her side smuggling business. Tse became an enemy of the law and the unlawful.
‘Snakehead’ Ending Explained
After her debt was paid, Tse wanted to leave. But Dai Mah lured her in by doubling her pay and handing over the dumpling house to her. When the FBI arrested Tse, she made a deal with the authorities that was revealed in the end. As soon as she came out, she handed over the restaurant to her only friend, Zareeb. It felt like Tse was going to burn and take Dai Mah with her.
To tame Tse, Dai Mah ordered Pai Gwut to kidnap Tse’s daughter. However, Tse captured Pai Gwut in Uncle Beth’s seafood company and killed her. In revenge, Rambo shot Zareeb.
After Zareeb’s death, Tse visited Dai Mah with a gun. Dai Mah considered Tse as a daughter and was ready to bury the past to start afresh. Tse cunningly got a confession from Dai Mah, where she confessed that Rambo was responsible for 38 bodies found frozen dead in a truck. Dai Mah was unaware that Tse was wearing a wire and became an informer for the FBI.
Later, Tse visited Rambo, who confessed to killing Zareeb as payback for Pai Gwut. After the confessions were recorded, the FBI arrested Dai Mah at Rambo’s wedding. When the FBI raided Rambo’s shop, he fired shots at the officers and probably was killed in a shootout.
After Dai Mah’s underworld descended into ruins, Tse finally escaped the syndicate. However, she didn’t go back to her daughter. Maybe she didn’t feel that her daughter needed her anymore. Or maybe, she thought that she would bring unnecessary danger to her daughter’s life. In the end, Tse decided to protect her daughter from a distance like a guardian angel. She stayed back in New York.
Snakehead is a 2021 drama thriller film written and directed by Evan Jackson Leong.