China Girl (Abel Ferrara / U.S., 1987):

"These violent delights have violent ends." "Fuckin’ fuggedaboutit!" Little Italy and Chinatown are the warring tribes in Abel Ferrara’s Manhattan modernization of the Bard, the star-cross’d lovers are a baby-faced pizza boy (Richard Panebianco) and a Chinese maiden (Sari Chang), introduced at the underground funk fête. The gangland netherworld of wiseguys and triad thugs is rigidly symmetrical, with slick bosses (James Hong, Robert Miano), disapproving brothers (James Russo, Russell Wong) and bellicose cronies (David Caruso, Joey Shin) mirroring one another from across the neighborhood divide. Against this geometry Ferrara poses the euphoria of the callow sweethearts, his camera seizes the couple’s quickening pulse as they transverse a nightclub, "nothing but you and me" amid the crowd. Brutality and romance are equally heightened, equally direct -- a musclehead getting carved with machetes segues naturally into Romeo fumblingly courting Juliet in a diner with an improvised bouquet. Brawlers wear black and strut through a spooky-bluish night, lovemaking on a mattress in an abandoned building has a seedy glow, even the most stock images (neon reflected on a sidewalk puddle) vibrate. Police officers, in cars or on horseback, are visitors from another dimension. Mean Streets figures in the San Gennaro pageantry, but it’s the Nicholas Ray of Hot Blood who's closest to Ferrara’s lyricism here, and, like Ray, Ferrara’s desire to do a musical palpitates throughout. (Aerosmith and David Johansen co-exist with Verdi and Puccini.) "Our responsibility is to control our children," one capo tells another. The children revolt and are punished, in the screen’s most vibrant visualization of the story’s description of love ("Too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn"). Screenplay by Nicholas St. John. With Judith Malina, Paul Hipp, Doreen Chan, and Randy Sabusawa.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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