The X-Files #68: Hell Money

"Lucky? That's an interesting word for it."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: In Chinatown, a ruthless surgeon scams Chinese immigrants of their organs.

REVIEW: Another cultural episode, Hell Money does feel pretty legit in its portrayal of Chinese superstitions, though of course it missed a trick by not featuring hopping vampires or ghosts that try to make you fall in love with them. As you can see, my entire assertion that the episode is "legit" is based on five years of watching Asian, mostly Chinese, movies on a weekly basis. But while filming large swathes of the show in Cantonese, not always providing translation, helps create the right atmosphere, it does mean one character - in this case, B.D. Wong's Detective Chao - has to pushed into constant exposition, reminding you that this is indeed a television show and undoing some of the immersion striven for by the rest of the production. But I suppose there's no getting around that.

Using the language barrier to create the mystery DOES yield good results, if you're patient with it. What is this strange lottery? Why are people losing body parts? Are there really spirits at work? You only have marginally more to go on than Mulder and Scully to puzzle it out, but it's still a slow process. I might still take exception with the ending, which is at once contrived (the leukemic girl gets on a donors' list somehow) and very bleak (Chao's final fate), and it's perhaps a little irksome that this wasn't really an X-File, although I applaud the idea that Scully's got to be right at least some of the time. As is proper, she gets to look the evil surgeon in the eye with all that controlled anger, which she so often directs at bad members of her chosen profession.

I mentioned B.D. Wong... His Chao is an affable character, but the chip he has on his shoulder comes out of nowhere. Did Mulder and Scully's concerns really deserve his playing the race card? He makes some valid points about "outsider insiders", I suppose, but cop movies often pull this trick, and here there's not enough of a build-up to it. He's not the only notable guest-star of course. The sick young woman is played by none other than Lucy Liu before she was a star (though she WAS dating David Duchovny, apparently); and the great James Hong is alas too little featured as the homonymously-named Mr. Hsin (does he have the cerebral cortex of a pig, perhaps?). Not to be outdone, the leads have a modicum of witty repartee, which often makes the difference between a good and a bad episode of the X-Files.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some nice attention to details creates an immersive world that perhaps needs a little too much explanation through conventional means.

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