In 1885, anti-Chinese sentiment ran rampant in the American West due to increasing numbers of immigrants searching for a new life in the United States. This led to racially-fuelled riots, massacres and expulsions – a shocking sentiment that unfortunately still exists today in the country, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One particular incident, the 1885 Chinese expulsion from Eureka, California, is the setting for Eureka, the latest short film by Asian-American filmmaker Miida Chu.
The film follows Longlong (Yueng Yue Joyce Chong), a young undocumented immigrant who ‘works’ at a brothel run by ‘Ma’ (Cici Lau). While Longlong struggles to break free from Ma’s hold, the brothel is targeted by anti-Chinese Americans.
Seeing the early actions driven by xenophobia and racism in the United States makes uncomfortable watching, especially as the antagonism by the local Californians is more driven by the fact that there are Asians in the town, rather than the fact that they are running a brothel. It didn’t matter that the prostitutes were young, vulnerable women – they all tied into a murky chapter in American history that is not only underexplored in mainstream culture but has fed a lasting impression that has typecast Asian women as over-sexualised characters in film and television.
When we first meet Longlong, she is an unwilling prostitute who doesn’t know life outside of her home – a rundown brothel that is targeted by anti-Chinese Americans who endlessly chant “The Chinese must go!”. This lingering anger from Americans adds an underlying layer of tension that heightens the film’s theme of escapism. Faced with imminent expulsion, the brothel’s Madam, known as ‘Ma’ (or mother) tries to gather the rest of her girls and is unafraid of ‘love bombing’ them to reaffirm her authority.
Taking the brunt of it is Longlong, whose erratic behaviour is vague to viewers. There may be more than the fragility of her psyche after years of abuse and her traumatic circumstances – more specifically, Ma’s control – but Chu’s artistic direction and minimalist screenplay play too much into Ma’s domineering persona rather than offer additional context to Longlong’s background. However, Chu highlights (albeit briefly) an underexplored point in Asian-American history and allows Chong and Lou to offer solid performances that effectively convey the toxicity of their relationship.
At 15 minutes, Eureka takes a bold step to bring a dark chapter of US history into the limelight but its cultural significance feels pushed aside to favour conventional dramatic elements.
Director: Miida Chu
Stars: Yueng Yue Joyce Chong, Cici Lau
Runtime: 15 minutes