Aiya, this is a good one. It’s the end of the 19th Century, and in San Francisco’s Chinatown, there is a whole nother world the whites and hispanics know little about. Here two Tongs rule two halves of a world of duty, face, kung fu, prostitutes, and immigrants hoping for better then they left.
Here Li-lin, whose is the widow of a master kung fu artist, and the daughter of a high level Daoist Priest, is approached by the Prince of the Ansheng Tong to go into the spirit world to help the ghost of another man– and she is brutally attacked.
Li-lin is caught up in a rivalry amongst gangs, and amongst Daoist priests, but more than that, she is caught up in the immigrant struggle: trying to navigate old world traditions and prejudices when circumstances call for change.
There is cinematically described House of the Flying Daggers type battles, and there are terrifying monsters, and there are over-the-top scenes like Big Trouble in Little China but with Li-lin the heroine who takes down the bad guys with hard work and emotional depth.
And there is emotional pain and growth, because Li-lin has lost so much, and must do irrevocable things that will lose her more if she will survive. And she makes mistakes. Stupid mistakes, like trusting the wrong people.
And in the end, she can not reject the monsters her father has taught her to hunt and destroy her whole life, they are her only hope for saving Chinatown.
All this story, and entertainingly horrific monsters and battles are depicted with some of the most detailed and expressive attention to historical and cultural details that I’ve seen in a long, long time. I don’t think Boroson could be accused of inappropriate cultural appropriation, and I feel Li-lin’s world is a mesmerizing cultural and historical lesson you won’t mind at all having. I’m definitely going on to the next one.