New Film Inspired by Brooklyn Murder of a Chinese Family

Shiyu Lu (Provided to World Journal by Lu)

Many people may still remember the murder in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in 2013 when Mingdong Chen, an immigrant from Fujian, China, killed the wife and four young children of his cousin with a meat cleaver. Now, the chilling brutality is being brought to the big screen by Shiyu “Rhyme” Lu, a young Chinese director, in his new film “Gold Fortune.” Inspired by Chen’s case, the newly finished work looks at the high price many Chinese immigrants pay for their American dream, which, many times, is simplified to obtaining a green card.

Four years ago, when the then 25-year-old Chen was arrested at the scene after he butchered Qiao Zhen Li, the wife of his cousin, and their four young children, Lu had just received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and returned to China. Lu said when he saw the news in the media in China, he initially thought it was only an individual crime conducted by a psychopath who had lost his humanity. “I was shocked. But I was just like any onlooker who didn’t bother to think much of something that was not directly related to their own lives,” Lu said.

But an in-depth story in a Chinese magazine called “Portrait,” published in May 2016 after Chen’s sentence, with the headline “A Murder by an Undocumented Immigrant in the U.S.” brought Lu’s attention back to the case.

The story made Lu, who also holds a master’s degree in film directing from the American Film Institute [Conservatory], open his eyes to the struggling person behind the murder. Lu, who spent six years in the U.S. to study, realized he and the murderer, who is the same age as him, once shared the same dream. They both left home, going far to chase the dream. But Chen was driven crazy by his failed attempts to obtain a green card and the frustration eventually led to a meltdown and the fatal tragedy. He indeed succumbed to destiny. Lu thought this could make a good movie.

Lu said when he was writing the script, he went to visit Chen in December 2016 at a prison in upstate New York. While he was waiting for Chen to be brought out, he found himself shaking. But when he started to talk to Chen, he found this psycho who slaughtered five people was indeed [like] a normal person. He liked Chinese pop singers such as Jeff Chang and Tom Zhang, thought Crystal Liu was the best looking Chinese actress, and envied Linghu Chong from a famous Chinese warrior novel because the fictional figure was able to play the zither with the woman he loved.

Lu said he was really surprised when Chen said “no” to his question “do you wish you hadn’t come to the U.S.?”

“Because in the U.S. as long as you work hard, there are opportunities,” Chen explained to Lu. Lu said he still cannot fully understand the answer. So he put it at the end of the movie to invite the audience to interpret it.

Shiyu Lu (left) (Provided to World Journal by Lu)

Lu said the short film, which is 26 minutes long, is a feature story based on Chen’s case. The protagonist, Yuzhong Chen, is a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant working at a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. The pressure of making ends meet, paying back the smuggling fee and getting a green card turned him into a slave to life. Eventually, when he got a deportation order, he lost his mind and committed murder.

(Provided to World Journal by Shiyu Lu)

Lu said he regrets that the film doesn’t shed much light on Nana Chen, a woman who had a major impact on Mingdong Chen in real life. But he is writing a longer script about the doomed romance between the two, and will look for opportunities to turn it into a movie in the future. [Editor’s note: Mingdong reportedly told Nana he wanted to marry her but she turned him down, not long before he murdered his relatives. She had been adopted by his parents and the two grew up together.]

The movie has been submitted to the Tribeca Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival. Lu said he hopes the film can encourage the audience to pay more attention and give more thought to undocumented immigrants and their struggles.

Lu said another regret is that he was not able to contact the victims’ family. He also worries whether the film will reopen the wounds of the survivors in the family when it is released. But he said at least he has tried his best “to make an honest film in which every role is treated fairly. I poured my heart into the film and made it with good intentions and a clear conscience,” Lu said.

One Comment

  1. I can understand this Ming Dong Chen completely. I don’t think he should have killed though. People from other countries don’t realize that beyond dictators in other countries genocide, American life can be brutal. Everything is designed as competition. For people born in this country it is sink or swim even at birth. Imagine having to emigrate here without resources.

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