The Cut Runs Deep


"For a long time, I've been waiting for a film like this. John H. Lee, especially for his debut feature, hit the bullseye."

- Mighty Peking Man

The Cut Runs Deep (1998)

AKA: A Cut Runs Deep

Director: John H. Lee

Producer: Ha Kwang Hwi

Cast: Alex Manning, David Lee McInnis, Richard Courtney, Gio Park, Wellington Yang

Running Time: 105 min.

Plot: A young half-Korean waiter, bored with his life, joins a local gang led by a thoughtful and protective, yet vicious boss. He soon rises in the ranks of the group and is assigned more dangerous jobs. All his life he has wanted to be something, and as he gets closer to that dream, he begins to walk the thin line between life and death.

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MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: With the exception of Michael Cimino's "Year of the Dragon", American-made "Asian Gang" films usually suck - which is actually a nice way of saying they all suck, especially since Cimino's film is considered a police-thriller more than anything. First of all, typical "Asian Gang" movies are filled with bad Asian actors doing stereotypical Asian shit - like walking around with a pair of nunchucks, spiked hair and Ray Ban sunglasses; and getting into brawls after being called "chinks" or "gooks" by the Black or Italian rival gangs across the street. I don't know why, but movie-makers always assume that just because they're Asian, they must know some kind of martial-arts. Let's get real - I doubt an Asian gangbanger will do a flip, bust out a pair of nunchucks and deflect Snoop Dog's bullets during a drive-by. That's just not the case.

Also, there's way more to "Asian Gangs" than collecting protection money from elderly vendors in Chinatown or Little Tokyo - a subplot that's definitely true, but way overdone and explored to be taken seriously on film. It's reasons like these that "Asian Gang" films turn out corny, fake and lack the seriousness of other cultured gang films like The Hughes Brothers' "Menace II Society" or Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets". The fact is, there hasn't been an "Asian Gang" film that matches the depth and quality of those films.

That is, until now.

Thank God, or better yet, thank John H. Lee for making his debut feature called "A Cut Runs Deep", an American-made gangster drama that centers more on the human side of gang-life than the usual exploitation of it's violent world. Not to say that the film doesn't have any violence, it actually has plenty, many of which is raw and sometimes ultra.  "A Cut Runs Deep" was filmed in English and shot in New York with an Asian-American cast. It was financed by Korean producers, therefore, was released in Korea first, then later in film festivals around the world as word caught on (judging from my research). It's obviously a low-budget film, however, the way it's executed with it's excellent cinematography and stylized visuals, the film looks as if it were done with a budget of millions. It's sharp, crisp and to simply put it, it just looks damn good on my TV and would definitely look even better on the big screen.

The plot centers around Ben (Alex Manning), the main character who also narrates his story Henry Hill-style. Ben is a half white/half Korean 16-year old who currently holds a position as a delivery boy for a scummy Chinese fast-food restaurant somewhere in New York. The Chinese restaurant is also his home. He shares a room, located in the restaurant's basement, with a fellow cook. The two practically live like cockroaches, working for less than minimum wage while being bossed around by the owners - and Ben is totally aware of this. But right now, he has no choice.

One day, on a routine delivery, Ben drops off an order of Chinese food to an apartment filled with a group of Korean guys who look like they're all in their mid-twenties. Ben takes instant notice to JD (David Lee McInnis), a quiet, cool-looking dude with an intense presence that hints that he's someone important and, most likely, dangerous. Ben hands him the food and JD hands him a $100 bill, even though the subtotal of the food is about 1/4 that much. Not having any change, Ben tells him that he'll be back later. After a few hours, Ben returns with the change. JD, respecting the 16-year old's honesty, discovers something special in Ben and gains an immediate liking towards him.

A day or two later, Ben notices something fishy going on outside the Korean guys' apartment building. He takes immediate action and warns JD.  It turns out that there are several cops staking their pad out and it's about to be a full-blown raid. Victoriously, they're able to escape the police - thanks to Ben's hint. It's after this incident that JD decides to recruit Ben. JD's gang has a different reaction to JD's decision... "He's not Korean, he's a fucking whiteboy", "He's just a kid", "he's a fucking delivery boy", etc. JD ignores these comments and along the way, the rest of the gang gives in and accepts Ben. But now, it's initiation time and Ben's first job is to burn his old home...the Chinese restaurant. He does it, barely thinking twice. He's in.

As the film moves on, some of the spotlight is focused more on JD. JD's bitter-smile and solitude, shown throughout the film, symbolizes that he's not happy and wants out of his crime-filled life. He also feels responsible for Ben, who he looks upon as a little brother as well as a mirrored image of his younger self - therefore, he's worried that Ben may have lost control of his future. After all, Ben is 16-years old, packs a gun, dates a high class prostitute and is on his way to becoming another "JD". It all spells a short-life and JD knows it. As far as Ben, he's treating it like a game.

The performances by the two main actors are outstanding. Especially Ben's role played by first-time actor Alex Manning, who bares a wicked resemblance to both Brandon Lee ("The Crow") and Hong Kong's Daniel Wu ("Purple Storm"), which is obviously due to his half Korean/Half white background. David Lee McInnis, also a first-time actor, hardly has any dialogue and when he does, it's a little more than a whisper. His role as "JD" calls for this mysterious mannerism and he pulls it off like a pro. There are a few performances here and there that stand out as being over the top, but all in all, no single performance is a big let down. Like I said earlier, as long as they're not swinging a pair of nunchucks in a kung-fu stance yelling out "sup dawg? you wanna fuck with me!?" Edison Chen-style, they're acceptable.

If there's anything bad to be said about "A Cut Runs Deep", it would have to be the fact that it borrows heavily from Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas". At times, it really shows. Even some of the actors think they're in a Scorsese flick judging from the way they act their parts. But hell, what better movie to borrow from than a Scorsese flick? And on a nit-picking level, there are a few plot gaps that could have been filled. For instance, I wouldn't have minded a little insight on the prostitutes background story...I mean, she's only the main character's girlfriend.

The bottom line is "A Cut Runs Deep" is a solid film about lives in the Korean underworld in New York. It's one of the first of it's kind as far as quality (no nunchucks here folks...). Not many realize this, but there is definitely an uprising in Asian gangs all over America and it's ashamed that the best "gangster" movies are always focused on Blacks and Italians. But when it comes to portraying the Asians, they throw in a pair of nunchucks and a couple of well-dressed dorks collecting protection money from grandma and grandpa Huang.

For a long time, I've been waiting for a film like this. John H. Lee, especially for his debut feature, hit the bullseye.

Footnote: The Korean DVD version of this film has many extra features, including an interesting featurette that has the two main actors (Alex Manning and David Lee McInnis) acting out scenes from Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver". The funny thing is, they do it flawlessly and it goes on for nearly 10 minutes! Alex Manning's facial features and his DeNiro voice is classic. You have to see it to believe it.