Despite the obvious titular allusion, actor-writer-director Attila Korosi’s micro-budget crime drama Live and Die in East L.A. bears little resemblance to director William Friedkin’s masterpiece To Live and Die in L.A. One thing both films have in common is that they function as odes to the City of Angels, dangerous and alluring, blood pooling in its eternal golden sun.
An animated prologue about a caterpillar wishing to become “the most beautiful butterfly” unexpectedly opens the film and remains a subplot (of sorts) throughout the remainder of the narrative. That’s followed by another rapid-fire prologue, wherein a young woman, Anita (Anita Korosi), dreams of going to America are seemingly thwarted. Korosi then plunges the viewer into the middle of a deal gone wrong in, you guessed it, East Los Angeles. After coming very close to being shot, thug Sanchez (Cesar Garcia) deliberately runs over his nemesis’ son, Daniel (Daniel Hovey). Daniel’s dad, Carlos (Michael Flores) – a man with more tattoos than skin on his body – patiently awaits in the hospital until he hears reassuring news from the doctor, Attila, played by the film’s director.
The filmmaker messes with conventional structure throughout Live and Die in East L.A.. Instead of taking the viewer down the expected path of revenge, Korosi ruminates upon different scenarios, taking us back to the moment before the hit-and-run. Sanchez gets grazed by a bullet during his escape, just to be betrayed by the mysterious Tony (Robert LaSardo). Anita, the young woman harboring the American Dream, turns out to be Attila’s sister (the filmmaker likes to keep it in the family), getting involved in shady business. More scenarios become intertwined. More characters become involved.
“…thug Sanchez deliberately runs over his nemesis’ son…”
If Korosi’s reach somewhat exceeds his grasp, the unfolding events, as convoluted (and often unintentionally funny) as they may be, are at least fun to watch. In particular, there’s a graphic “How did they do that?” carving of a man’s arm. The filmmaker showcases a knack for building tension and shooting action. A chase sequence that starts on Los Angeles rooftops and ends up in a gas station may be the highlight.
The director’s messages of wasted potential and violence affecting the youth are a bit too on-the-nose, as is the whole off-kilter caterpillar analogy. While he clearly knows a thing or two about life in the East L.A. streets, some bits feel forced, and some lines of dialogue could have used a rewrite or two or been eliminated altogether: “You know, Daniel, you’re going to achieve some great things in this country.”
Running barely over 70 minutes, sans title credits, Live and Die in East L.A. flies by. The authenticity and Korosi’s passion for his subject propels it forward. While original, the multiple-potential-scenarios concept ends up too needlessly complex, wordy, and frankly unnecessary. Ironically, had the filmmaker stuck to simply following, say, Sanchez through a day in the life of an L.A. thug whilst showcasing his action chops, the film would have been infinitely more compelling.
"…fun to watch."