In Chinatown, a young man named Joe Ching (Jame Saitos) steals an imperial ivory statue from the criminal Tong organization, bringing the full power of the Five Families down on him in their attempts to recover it, mostly lead by Mr. Ming (Keye Luke). The next day, Jesse returns home from his morning jog and is shocked to find Lile (Shelagh McLeod) waiting for him. Lile (pronounced Lih-lay, though Jesse calls her Lillie) was Jesse's girlfriend back in the day, but left him when he joined the police force because she couldn't stand being with someone who put their lives in danger. She's here now to ask Jesse for help in getting Joe Ching, her friend, out of trouble.
The first place Jessie goes is the home of another old friend, Auntie Pearl (Beaulah Quo). Lile was the daughter of English photographers who often left the girl at their home in China where Pearl worked as her nanny and caretaker. Lile was never able to fully acclimate to either China or England, and is still struggling to find a place here in America. Pearl reveals to Jesse that Joe and Lile are a couple, and that Joe's been shunned by his family for the dishonor of getting engaged to a white woman. When Joe and Lile secretly meet, we learn he stole the statue because the Tong originally stole it from Joe's family, and he's hoping to regain his family's support by returning it to shanghai.
Returning to her apartment, Lile is almost snatched by a pair of Tong goons, until Jesse shows up and fights them off. He brings Lile back to his place where she gives Joe a ring, Jessie ducking out to the Command Center to have Norman trace the destination of that call. After Joe's paranoia leads Jesse and he on a bit of a foot chase, Jesse is finally able to confront his ex-flame's new beau, telling the man he's a part of things whether Joe likes it or not. Joe didn't know about the attempt to kidnap Lile and tells Jesse he sent Lile to retrieve the statue. Jesse rushes back to the Command Center, suits up, and burns rubber on Street Hawk.
Lile gets her hands on the statue, but is cornered in the alley by men in cars. Street Hawk shows up, taking their engines out while Lile races off with Joe. Norman gets a read on the license plates and realizes the men in these cars aren't Tong, they're FBI. Back at the Command Center, we learn the Feds have been trying to get their hands on the statue for ages in order to prevent the Tong families from falling into a civil war over its control, and now Street Hawk blundered in and wrecked it. Jesse is embarrassed, but also furious because of the way he and Norman are so isolated from any other form of law enforcement.
Jesse finds Lile at Pearl's place and brings her back to his beach home, where they swim, share a bonfire, and share regrets over the way they they parted. They kiss, then make love. The next morning, Lile is all set to stay with Jesse, but she still wants to help Joe get out of the country. Jesse meets with Norman to arrange new identities for Lile and Joe as well as a boat headed for China. Norman is shocked when Jesse then reveals that he plans to retire as both a cop and as Street Hawk so he can settle down with Lile, who he fears will once again have doubts about his dangerous lifestyle. Norman challenges Jesse from every angle, but Jesse won't back down. And, no, he's not even willing to hide his vigilante identity from Lile.
Jesse makes his final plans with Lile, who's conflicted over the Joe's compassion as they drive off. At Police HQ, Pearl shows up to warn Jesse that word is spreading on the streets that the entire Tong organization knows about the boat and is planning to swoop in and take Joe down. Jesse rushes off to the Command Center and suits up, Norman telling him that all other Feds are holding back from getting in the way.
Lile and Joe arrive at the docks, finding their boat unmanned and Mr. Ming and his Tong thugs ready and waiting for them. Joe tries to barter himself and the statue for Lile's freedom, then dives in to a fight, but all he gets for his effort is a bullet in the shoulder. Street Hawk suddenly shows up and mows down all the goons. Lile helps the inured Joe onto the boat, then approaches Street Hawk. She knows right away that it's Jesse and he removes his helmet, despite the protests from Norman. Jesse can tell Lile has chosen Joe, but pleads with her to stay, telling her about his plan to retire. She tells him Street Hawk is too important, that she would never be able to forgive herself if she were responsible for removing it from the streets. The two share a last kiss, then she rides off with Joe, leaving Jesse alone on the docks.
The next day, Jesse is back on the beach, outrunning Norman and once again adjusting to his his new life as Street Hawk.
This had the potential to be the most sweeping, beautiful story yet told in Street Hawk. A woman from Jesse's past, the love he lost when he decided to join the police force, falls back into his arms. Things are uncomfortable at first, but what they once had slowly re-ignites, culminating in a night of passion where she betrays her current fiance to start over again with Jesse. And he's all set to give up the path he chose instead of her, drop his badge on Altobelli's desk and passing the Street Hawk keys to the next daredevil on the Fed's list of candidate. But then Lile finds herself conflicted, between the man who wants her and the man who needs her, and she ultimately leaves Jesse on the docks, alone yet again. He tells her at one point that she'll have to lie to one of the men in her life and, over the course of the story, she does so to both, leaving me wondering how long it'll take Lile to once again feel the disconnect and alienation that's been a part of her since birth. This story is complicated, it goes down some ethically conflicting paths, and it ends one on hell of a bittersweet note.
If only the episode itself lived up to that story. Where to start.
Lile. I like the story of her international heritage, constantly catching her in a tug-of-war between ethnic and cultural boundaries that keep finding ways to push back every time she sets in. Sadly, very little of this is actually reflected in the character. Shelagh McLeod has a captivating, atypical look and presence about her, but her performance is quite flat and, other than the fact she's hanging around with Chinese people, there's never a reflection of the cultural influence her roots have had on her. It's not in how she dresses, it's not in how she talks or acts, there's no exploration of the "outsider with a foot in the door" perspective it would give her on things. It's literally exposition that isn't backed up by anything on screen. And even worse, Lile has no chemistry with Jesse. You can see Rex Smith really giving it his all and trying to sell the melodrama as best he can, but he's not getting anything back from McLeod and I never once actually felt the history that I was constantly told they shared. McLeod does settle in a bit and lays some solid emotion on the table in the later scenes, but it tops a foundation that's far too shaky and we also never spend enough time with Joe, who she also has zero chemistry with, so as to really feel the weight of the choice she ultimately makes. Yeah, the final shot of Jesse on the dock is genuinely powerful stuff, but it's too little too late.
Also, how exactly did that relationship between Lile and Jesse work to begin with? How did he come to know this unusual expat from China. Did she follow Auntie Pearl (a genuinely great and memorable character) to the States, or drag her nanny along with when she herself came over? And why California? And, again, how did she come to meet Jesse? We never find out. Furthermore, why did she break up with him when he became a cop? Yeah, they say it's because she didn't want to live in constant worry about his life, but what have they already established by this point? Before he was a cop, from the time he was a teen, in fact, he was a champion dirt bike rider, flinging himself around a track on a regular basis alongside George Clooney. How is the life of a cop significantly more dangerous than that? Yeah, he could get shot, but he could also catch a piece of mud the wrong way, fly off the track, and snap his neck. This doesn't hold water. They wanted to give Jesse a rich story that tied into his past, but they didn't take five seconds to remember "Oh, hey, what about the bit of his past we've already established."
Elsewhere in the story, the entire Tong plot again has a ton of potential - a mysterious ancient statue that even the Feds want to get their hands on in order to prevent a massive civil war in the underworld - but it's again represented by a handful of random guys in suits. No, they aren't Tony's White Guys In Suits, but other than the different ethnicity, they're executed exactly the same as the worst-case-scenarios Tony and I kept running into with Automan. Not even the presence of veteran actor Keye Luke is enough to elevate this threat above the level of sub-mediocrity. I mean, there's a big spiel about how the entire Tong organization is going to swoop down on the dock to take out Joe, and what do we get? Six guys in a really sloppily staged action scene who's only saving grace is the shocking twist of Jesse showing up and absolutely slaughtering all of them. Seriously, he tears apart four with his machine gun and vaporizes Luke and a goon with his rockets. This show hasn't shied away from Jesse taking lives in the past, but the carnage of that moment caught me completely off guard.
Soooo many other problems. Much is made of Joe's tumultuous relationship with family traditions, but we never get to see any of it play out, robbing genuine depth from him and his "dishonorable" engagement to Lile. Then there's the fact that she totally cheated on the dude and only seems to be sticking around out of the guilt over his gunshot wound. And then there's the bizarrely sloppy direction with awkward closeup angles, actors trying to figure their way through clumsy stagings, and random martial arts fu that often feels like no stunt coordinator could be found so people who had no clue what they were doing just made up some kicks as they went along. I'm not sure if it's due to another DVD replacement of licensed music or not, but the score was also quite awful at times and especially intrusive during the sultry scene on the beach, to the point where I was struggling to hear the actors over it.
That said, there's two saving graces. I know it doesn't go anywhere, but I love the idea that Jesse unknowingly opens fire on undercover Federal Agents, ruining a sting that's long been in the works. Tony wondered in the last episode just what level of a connection Street Hawk had to the bureau and it looks like it still has some pull since Norman is able to call Feds off from interfering in the climax. And let's talk about Norman. Norman came out of nowhere and absolutely nailed this episode's key thread of his horror and betrayal at the idea of Jesse quitting Street Hawk over a girl. His increasing frustration at Jesse is great, with him pleading with the other man to carry on in secret, she'll never have to know, but then he finally settles into acceptance and is begrudgingly willing to let his friend go. Even when Jesse shows up for one last ride, then takes off his helmet to confirm an identity that's already been guessed. And I love the final tag, where Norman is struggling to catch up to Jesse on the beach. He thinks the other man is running away from him, but then Jesse smile and thanks him for being a friend. That pulled the heartstrings and again showed the potential heights this episode kept failing to live up to.
Jesse's Body Count: 14!
In the harsh mathematics of love, it’s the cruelest equation of all: one woman, plus two men, equals one choice. Jesse or Joe. Who will Lile chose? And is Norman Street Hawk’s real father (dun-dun-DUUUUUN!!!)? All will be revealed, this week on...As the Wheel Turns.
In the past two months, we’ve come to expect a few things from Street Hawk - exciting action sequences, the playful banter between our two leads, middle aged Caucasian businessmen - but hasn't gone soapy until this week. Does it work? Yes and no.
Noel is still trotting around the bases from the homerun review he wrote, so I’ll try to bunt my way on with a few different observations.
With its focus on a personal storyline, “Chinatown Memories” hearkens back to the second, and best, episode of the series so far, “A Second Self”. In fact, the basic story here is actually better, its the execution that causes it to fall short of that benchmark. The whole love story is fumbled and, yet, Jesse manages to recover it and tote it for a solid gain, if not exactly a touchdown.
The fumble: In order for a love triangle to work, the audience has to feel the inner turmoil of the character torn between two lovers. In this case, Lile. On one side you have Joe who, even though we’re told is in a relationship with Lile, seems stuck in the dreaded “friend-zone” every time they interact. Lile never even kisses Joe, even when they part as Joe heads off into danger. I half expected to see Joe pucker up and Lile extend a hand for a good hearty handshake. On the other side, you have Jesse, who gets to hyper-thrust her on the beach. In the end, she chooses poor sad-sack Joe because he got shot? Ohhh-kaay. I guess you have to chalk up the fact that Joe not even kissing Lile to the producers and the network being too afraid of the “taboo” of an interracial kiss. I know it was almost thirty years ago and all, but I was still so offended by this notion that it took me right out of the episode.
The recovery: On the other side of things, Jesse’s attachment to Lile actually had a little emotional traction. Most of this is due to a really sincere performance of Rex Smith, buttressed by a well executed “Street Hawk No More” plot line. More on that later.
The rest of the episode has a slew of problems, most of which are familiar complaints to our regular readers. The whole ancient statue McGuffin is silly, trading on bad stereotypes of “superstitious” and “backward thinking” non-western cultures. And for all it's bluster, the Tong is ultimately about as threatening as Cub Scout troop. The final showdown, while ruthless by Street Hawk standards, eschews the elaborate stunts we’ve come to expect in favor of “Pow! Whoosh! Bang!” expediency.
In spite of these failings, the episode still manages to get a passing grade from me on the strength of Jesse’s struggle between duty and love. Flimsy as the construction may be, the episode still has a badly needed bit of emotional gristle, something that’s been sorely missing from the series since “A Second Self”. The last few weeks seemed as if the show was treading on hollow ground, with characters and stories detached from consequences, feelings, and good old fashioned basic humanity. When the characters care, it’s easier for us to care, too. And I did here.
Confucius says, "A man who resorts to a list is a man out of ideas":
- There’s a very bizarre and out of place sub-plot about Altobelli having been told by a psychic that Street Hawk will be apprehended by the next full moon, which puts him in an uncharacteristically good mood... for a while. It seems grafted on to add humor and to give Altobelli something to do. It accomplishes one of these things.
- The scene where Lile and Joe leave on the boat as Jesse watches from the dock features the song “What About Me?” Originally recorded by Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, and Kim Carnes, it tells the story of a love triangle between two men and one woman that leaves them all asking “What about me?” It’s a little corny, but thematically, it’s a great fit. Not surprisingly, the version used in the episode is not the original.
- The overbearing music used in the beach scene sounds really familiar to me. It’s either an instrumental version of an 80s adult contemporary song or a track from the movie “Malibu Express”.
Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "The Unsinkable 453".
If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.