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Review: The Illegal Immigrant

Caught another screening in Metrograph’s “Shaw Sisters” retrospective: The Illegal Immigrant, a romantic dramedy about an undocumented sweatshop worker that enters into a sham marriage in order to obtain a green card—and, quite unintentionally, ends up actually falling in love with his vain, abrasive pretend bride.

Tonally, the movie jumps all over the place—a scene in which our “happy couple” is subjected to a humiliating interrogation by immigration officials, for example, swings from suspenseful to comedic when they accidentally give the same date for the wife’s last period—but somehow, it feels cohesive. Ultimately, the film works best as a snapshot of New York’s Chinatown in the 1980s: hounded by the government and constantly deprived of opportunities, our protagonist is repeatedly forced to depend on the “generosity” of gangsters just to make ends meet—often with disastrous consequences.

Packed with heart, humor, pathos, biting social commentary, and some of the most realistic gunfights ever depicted in Chinese cinema, The Illegal Immigrant features something for everybody… though I do doubt that the majority of viewers would enjoy all of those ingredients mixed together in one big salad bowl.

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