Web series: Chinatown gang violence exposed in The Streets

Web series The Streets explores a culture and setting rarely focused on in mainstream media. The series portrays the lives of Asian gangs caught up in turf wars, which only escalate as one man tries to escape it. Meanwhile, short film Boneshaker rattles to the core as it explores a young girl’s struggle with undiagnosed behavioral issues. To check these out, read on:

Web series: The Streets: Growing up on the streets of Chinatown is not an easy path. As a little kid, Benny Chung was forced by a gang leader to shoot his own father in the head to settle an unfulfilled debt. Now grown up and taking care of his younger brother, Matty, Benny (played by Will Hue, who also wrote, directed and executive produced) attempts normalize his life by leaving the streets behind and working a cubicle job. It isn’t long until his old life starts calling him back, though, as the web series takes a harsh, unrelenting look at life on the streets through his eyes and members of his former gang.

The eight-episode series ran on YouTube from September 2015 to June 2016. It was created by Old Kid Productions, a New York City-based independent film company that produces a variety of online content. The series takes a hard look at gang life and violence in Chinatown, while also portraying Asian males in a more masculine light than media typically portrays. It doesn’t shy away from showing violence, and it’s clear no character is safe as the story progresses.

While Benny is unhappy at his 9 to 5 cubicle job, leaving the streets allows him to foster a positive home and relationship with Matty, who studies hard to get into college and takes his girlfriend out on picnic dates in the park. He is slowly dragged back into his old life when his old boss Dai Lo and friend Paul reach out to him for help with the gang as a gang war brews. Flashbacks reveal that Benny may not be as innocent as he comes across early in the series, and with each episode heightening the stakes, Benny begins to revert back to his old persona – dragging Matty with him.

For a web series, the quality and artistry of the video and audio is impressive. The show looks and sounds like it could be featured on television. There’s enough story material here to adapt to a full-length series, too. The episodes range from 8 to 14 minutes long, but each installment forwards the narrative in surprising ways, which could easily lead to an addictive binge watch of the whole show.

The story is an enticing concept that, and while executed well, could have been even more nail-biting. Some of the plot points are obvious, while others hit you in the face with shock. Still, there’s a permeating sense of high tension all throughout the show that’s the mark of gripping, well-executed drama. The series never quite takes full advantage of its Chinatown setting as a location often visited but never fully dwelled upon in mainstream content. The show could have benefitted from more fully exploring the setting to immerse the viewer further and also shed light on a culture that sees limited portrayal as is. The gorgeous sped-up transition shots capturing the bustling city are just teasers at what could have been.

Old Kid Productions is still a fledgling company and Will Hue’s talent as a director is clear, but has potential to grow. They said there is the possibility of more installments if there is enough interest from fans. Let’s hope they get the opportunity to continue down this street and improve their already-solid production.

Short film: Boneshaker: Through dynamic camera angles and somber, beautiful cinematography, filmmaker Frances Bodomo tells us the story of a girl with undiagnosed behavioral issues in Boneshaker. The film opens with a claustrophobic tight shot of the little girl, played by the youngest Academy Award nominee ever, Quvenzhané Wallis. She’s panicking in the backseat of a car with her family, who has given up on medicine and is resorting to some sort of spiritual exorcism to control her behavior.

The combined efforts of Bodomo and Wallis make the 13-minute film an emotional journey, for both her character and the audience. We sense the little girl’s panic, fear and sense of wonder in every frame. As the little girl and her sister, around the same age, explore the woods before entering the religious site where the exorcism will take place, the little girl wonders how many steps it would take to get home. They overlook a river reflecting sunshine, contemplating escaping what is about to happen. The film does an excellent job at illustrating the internal and external struggle Wallis’s character is facing.

Whether or not the treatment works or not is never made clear. United at the end, the family looks off into the river, their thoughts guarded from the audience. Bodomo demonstrates remarkable restraint in her storytelling. Whatever the result might be, the combined talent of Bodomo and Wallis is anything but ambiguous.