Devotees of Bruce Lee should find plenty to like about this two-hour kickfest from the creative force behind last summer’s “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.” But the telefilm is more than a rehash of kung fu matinees. By combining a host of forces pitted against its characters, with strong performances and an intelligent storyline, it will no doubt leave viewers salivating for the next installment.
Brothers Jian-Wa (Russell Long) and Wago Chang (Chi Muoi Lo) made a photo spread in Time magazine during a Tiananmen Square-type uprising that ostensiblyconvinced the feds in the U.S. they are worthy of American freedom. When the brothers escape from China under the cloak of political asylum, the classic good vs. evil struggle begins.
Wa, with his cover boy good looks, is a sort of Asian Clark Kent, trying to survive in the U.S. fighting the good fight and dealing with the racist inclinations of his new-found society and its wholesale abuse of immigrants.
He does his best to steer his younger brother down a similarly straight path, but the inevitable clash ensues and Wago leaves his brother and finds acceptance in the underworld, becoming a member of a Vietnamese gang.
Scripter Rob Cohen weaves an intricate tale that chronicles the conflict and struggle of the two brothers, framed with foreign politics and topical subjects such as the much-publicized increase in the smuggling of Chinese immigrants into the U.S.
He deftly provides plenty of outside forces to keep the story interesting, including a love interest for Wa, who tosses her yuppie boyfriend for the sensitive violinist and martial-arts master.
The two hours move at a lively clip, but some of the fighting scenes and gang violence occasionally take on a cartoonish quality. Cohen keeps the thrust of surviving in the new world constant, providing just the right doses of conflict and triumph.
Both Lo and Long are completely credible in their portrayal as struggling, headstrong immigrants. Long, who was also in “The Joy Luck Club,” delivers a powerful performance as he moves through the Horatio Alger-like story.
Cohen’s scathing indictment of the treatment of immigrants, while never resorting to preaching, is a feat unto itself. Viewers get the gist without getting hit over the head a hundred times; that is saved for the actors.
Director John Nicolella guides his cast into both well-charted and untested territory, avoiding mistakes often made in the former, as in the lengthy fight scenes, and keeps the coverage of the new ground — Wa as a concert violinist and the Hong Kong-Vietnam political-based struggle — interesting and integral to the story.
Ending with Jian-Wa walking off into the sunset, the telefilm has set itself up for part two of the saga — there will be four parts to the “Vanishing Son” story — that will have some very tough shoes to fill. If the debut is any indication, subsequent adventures should garner widespread acceptance.