ASIAN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! “Everybody got dirt. Everybody got an agenda.” Hisonni Johnson’s Take Out Girl takes place in the crime-ridden territory referred to as the “Low Bottoms” in south-central Los Angeles. When strolling through these parlous streets, expect there to be skulking gangsters, flustered officers, and calculated drug deals. For so long, stories have been told about an impecunious character who goes to extreme lengths to get out of a financial bind, or people who’ve become blinded or coerced by the life of crime. In Breaking Bad, Walter White started his drug career to pay medical bills and leave his family money. Before any of these characters know it, they are eternally mired in a blood-laced lifestyle or die from a bullet. 20-year-old Tera Wong (Hedy Wong, who co-wrote the script) works as a delivery employee at Sai Kung Restaurant, which is owned and operated by her family. Soon enough, her family establishment becomes entangled in illegal activities.
An unwavering shot follows Tera from behind as she strolls a school hallway. Her face is deliberately concealed, her black baseball cap (with the words “Never Compromise” sewn on the back) is plainly underscored, and pesky students are stopping her in her tracks to procure test answers in exchange for cash. This briskly clever introduction of Tera showcases her duplicity, frustration, street-smarts, and anger with modest potency.
“…deftly transport these prohibited goods by upholding the veneer of a seemingly innocent 20-year-old Asian girl…”
If the shameless cheating wasn’t a clear enough inkling, school isn’t on Tera’s priority list. Instead of focusing on education, Tera spends the majority of her time as a delivery employee at her family’s struggling restaurant, alongside Crystal Wong (Mier Chasin), her brother, Saren Wong (a convincing Lorin Alond Ly, whose capricious temperament implies unalterable recklessness), and her very ill mother, Wavy Wong (a soft-spoken Lynna Yee). Like every other family business, it can be difficult to match up with the big guys. But Tera’s mother also suffers from severe back problems that’ll only get worse if she continues to operate the restaurant without extra assistance. Something has to be done to overcome staggering debt; that’s where the illicit practices come in.
When Tera stumbles into a room of known criminals during a delivery — which includes Lalo (Ski Carr), a ruthless crime boss — Tera contemplates delivering contraband by utilizing her family restaurant’s pristine image. Ideally, she would deftly transport these prohibited goods by upholding the veneer of a seemingly innocent 20-year-old Asian girl, simply doing teenage grunt work. After some thought, Tera goes back to Lalo, convincing him that she’ll be able to carry these goods from point A to point B without gaining suspicion. Tera is swept up by her recent criminal ventures, finding the extravagant money to be made a prime motivator and life-changing factor for her and her family. Regrettably, the life of crime doesn’t come without regret, fear, and internal and external wounds that’ll be challenging to heal.
"…its compelling emphasis on Tera elevates the stakes."