Beating Up the Klan

Ed Harris plays Shang in Alamo Bay. He’s composite deep south, Texas, racist caricature. Not that such people don’t exist, but the lengths Alamo Bay feels it needs to go when establishing Shang’s awfulness dim the effect.

Shang’s only hat sports the Confederate flag, he comes home drunk to beat his wife, then cheats on her at night. That seems enough for a movie villain. Later, he’s charging toward Vietnamese refugees with a gun, surrounded by fully cloaked KKK members, while his boat flies the American flag upside down. Still more, he’s joining on a cross burning and leading protests, turning teens against the immigrants.

Set within a small fishing town, Alamo Bay looks the part

Alamo Bay deals in long-standing, anti-Asian bias, contending with post-Vietnam economics as the workforce changes. There’s enough to examine in that conflict without a singular bloated messenger like Shang. Alamo Bay makes Shang’s opposition, Dinh (Ho Nguyen), almost saintly. There’s no right to Shang, and no fault to Dinh. Approaching the material with such strict lines feels inauthentic, moving no one away from their concrete beliefs – not all that dissimilar to the current political stage.

Oddly, there’s a stronger statement in Ngyuen’s career post-Alamo Bay. Six years after, he held a small role in a barely seen TV movie and disappeared. Ngyuen’s competent, nuanced performance (doubly so considering the character’s flatness as written) deserved to push him forward as an actor on the American stage. It’s a shame.

Set within a small fishing town, Alamo Bay looks the part and at the time of filming, was reportedly dealing with leftover tensions from real world antagonism. That comes through on screen, even if the script leans toward a thickly drawn conclusion. Shops look rundown. Boats need paint. Bars fill at night to placate the populace. Few businesses seem successful downtown. It’s poor, and only optimism comes from Vietnamese determined to blend with western society.

Heavy on drama, the script does find a moment to characterize the bigots and their idiocy. Planning a late night raid, two of them prepare Molotov cocktails, smiling as they fill glass bottles with gas. On their way to burn Vietnamese boats, one asks if anyone brought matches. They didn’t, although there were plenty to burn a cross the night before. Geniuses, the lot of them.

Video

Other than tight close-ups, Alamo Bay struggles to show fine detail. Grain is preserved on the print, but not the encode. Sharing a disc with Summertree, space is at a premium and it shows. Compression delivers artifacting in chunks, sometimes severe if the imagery becomes complex.

Source material seems fine. There’s no damage, the print is stable, and contrast pure. Deep black levels create density and dimension.

Natural color keeps primaries reserved, nothing exaggerated or altered by recent grading tools. Alamo Bay sits in brown earth hues, spreading pure flesh tones and a few gorgeous sunsets at sea.

Audio

Unaltered mono doesn’t stretch itself far. It’s clean and unobstructed, producing precise dialog. Minimal scoring won’t stress range, neither treble or bass particularly impressive, just fine.

Extras

Nothing.

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Alamo Bay
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Trying too hard to earn sympathy, Alamo Bay makes a firm statement against anti-Asian bigotry but does so via overwritten leads.

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