Directed by: Patrick Xi Hao Chen
Written by: Patrick Xi Hao Chen (adapted from the Detective Jack Yu series by Henry Chang)
Starring: Ronny Chieng, Perry Yung, Tzi Ma, Kathleen Kwan
Synopsis (IMDb): Torn between his identity of his community and the NYPD, Detective Jack Yu delivers news of a son’s murder to the victim’s parents at the height of a gang turf war in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Festival accolades: Winner-Best Supporting Actor-Tzi Ma (Canada China International Film Festival), official selection of the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon, Houston Asian American & Pacific Islander Film Festival, D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival, Canada China International Film Festival, Asian American International Film Festival (NYC).
A Father’s Son, based on the Detective Jack Yu series by Henry Chang, is a love letter to several things at once. From the style and story beats, it’s clear that the film is heavily influenced by ’90s Hong Kong films.
Of course, the main voice American audiences recognize from that era is Wong Kar-Wai, but beyond just Wong’s filmography, other directors of the ’90s through 2010s, including Peter Ho-Sun Chan and Ann Hui, all feature themes of longing for place and peace amid an existential, yet relatable, journey. Indeed, through Chieng’s portrayal and Chen and Chang’s words, Jack Yu is very much a man on a journey of self-discovery, no thanks to his father (Perry Yung), a Chinese immigrant who despises that his son works for the white man’s police force instead of, in his mind, taking care of his own people.
The character is convincingly played by Yung, who captivates with a gripping monologue about how he sees life in America (a view that many minorities of any background can identify with). However, Jack’s dad isn’t supportive of his son’s life, and because of that, in the vein of many Hong Kong films, A Father’s Son is about the hope (or maybe, the never-ending despair) of finding yourself amid two different cultures and sets of expectations.
But the film is also a love letter to the New York Chinatown community itself, specifically Flushing. Even though the short film is only about 30 minutes long, you get a sense of a Chinatown that feels both lived-in and etched in memory. The real-life places shown in the film ground the story, but it also gives viewers a true sense of what the scene is like. Keep in mind, this is a film about crime, and yet, it’s only been in rare instances in film or on television that we get to see a compassionate, fully-realized view of a city’s Chinatown.
As Chieng goes on his rounds to figure out the parentage of a young murder victim, we see the hot spots of the community, and get glimpses of local figures, such as actor Henry Yuk, Chang himself, who makes a cameo, as well as renowned photojournalist Corky Lee and actor/model Geoff Lee, both of whom died in the months to a year after filming. Even though the film was already one designed to give Chinatown greats their flowers–another way the film shows love–the film became even more poignant as a memoriam after Corky and Geoff’s deaths.
Tzi Ma, also a local legend as well as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of Chinese descent, gives an astounding performance as a grieving father who realizes too late how precious his son was to him. Together with Kathleen Kwan and Wai Ching Ho as Ma’s wife and mother-in-law, the three show how so much can be said and communicated in just one scene.
Fans of Chieng might be surprised to see him play a serious role, seeing how he makes his living as a comedian on stage and on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. But once you get used to the idea, you can see that Chieng has the makings to play a emotionally tortured hero whose verging on giving into his cynicism regarding his life.
Overall, A Father’s Son is another great showing from Chen (who was featured in 2017 for his short film Underneath the Grey). Here’s hoping the short film can be expanded into an even bigger project.