Evan Jackson Leong, director of, among other things, “Linsanity”, which chronicles the life of basketball player Jeremy Lin, is making another film, and this one promises to be a gem.It is called Snakehead, and it a fictional account of the life of Cheng Chui Ping (affectionately called Sister Ping), whose rise in the international underworld of human smuggling made her one of the most sought after snakeheads in the history of the FBI.
When emigrants were smuggled from China, one leg in their journey required them to slither through wire fences strung along borders. Their shape resembled that of a snake, with the front of the snake (the head) being the smugglers themselves – thus the term snakehead.
For ten years, Cheng smuggled 3,000 illegal immigrants from China (her native home) into the U.S. She acquired more than $40 million by charging $40,000 per person to escort them here. The brutality was that while she allowed some customers to pay part of their fee before departing, once they reached the U.S. they were held hostage until their outstanding balance was paid. Cheng used the notorious Fuk Chin Gang as muscle.
Snakehead is not, however, simply a film about the underworld and the criminals who populate it. It explores the lives of immigrants and their struggle to survive. As Evan Jackson Leong says, immigrants built this country. We often ignore this fact while we enjoy the fruits of their labour. We also forget that, in fact, we are all immigrants. Each and every one of is in the US because of an ancestor who immigrated here. In an attempt to humanise the immigrant experience, Snakehead explores the harsh conditions that many newcomers face, and the struggle for survival that exemplifies the human spirit.
Snakehead’s look into the immigrant experience is not solely focused on the people victimised by the world that Cheng built. Ironically, Cheng herself was a direct immigrant to this country, and so the story of survival is hers as much as it is theirs. She once faced trials and tribulations quite similar to those people she bought and sold. She had no formal education, spoke very little English, and spent most of her time managing a shop which sold clothes and goods from China. Because of her background and her extraordinary rise to power, Sister Ping was widely revered both as an immigrant success story and as an outstanding business professional
She was dichotomy. When judged, her actions were criminal; they lead to the death of ten people and to the misery of thousands of others. At the same time, she was considered to be compassionate and kind. She took the freedom of those who could not pay her, but when passengers were caught by immigration officials, she would forgive the balance of her fee. When passengers died, she paid for their burial. Sister Ping’s name became so highly esteemed that other snakeheads fraudulently claimed to be affiliated with her in order to attract business.
Snakehead explores Chinatown’s dark underworld, the influence of law enforcement in this secretive and powerful sect, and the ability of one woman to build an empire. It also gives the world a story about, as Jackson-Leong says, a “bad-ass female character”. Snakehead is being made for the community, by the community, and it needs your help. In order to bring this amazing story to life, you can donate to the Snakehead Kickstarter campaign by following the link.
Help Evan Jackson Leong tell a generational story of poverty, limits, and the American dream. Help him make Snakehead. Invest in the future of this film, a future Oscar winner in the making.