CHINA BRIDE by Henry Luk


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Earnest but awkward woman-in-periler: What could have been an intricate story of Hong Kong on the eve of its return to Chinese control is reduced to a contrived thriller. Not long after she’s plucked from the filthy Hong Kong harbor by a pair of mute fishermen and taken to the Chinese mainland, former Olympic runner Beth Connor is thrown into a gloomy jail cell. Beth is making her first visit on the arm of her fiancÇ Michael Chang, a fellow Harvard student and scion of a Hong Kong dynasty; the family’s enormous wealth derives, it turns out, from a criminal past founded on prostitution and arms smuggling. That’s reason enough to have Michael and Beth abducted shortly after they arrive in Hong Kong by a vulgar band of thugs linked to a Taiwan triad--one of several illicit organizations that wants to use Michael and his family to maintain its economic foothold when the Crown colony goes back to the Chinese. A tale of the tangled political, economic, and criminal loyalties bedeviling these characters would have been sufficient material for any thriller, but Luk piles on needless complexity: While competing in the Barcelona Olympics, Beth accidentally tripped a Chinese competitor, causing global embarrassment that some Chinese now want to avenge. Add to this the fact that Michael’s brother Frederick, head of the family, is dying of AIDS. This leaves Michael heir to a corrupt business empire that he knows almost nothing about. And Michael’s sister-in-law Anne (who does not have AIDS) wants to hold on to her virtual matriarchy, and so doesn’t want Michael to marry Beth. It’s all neatly resolved, of course, by story’s end. First-novelist Luk clearly knows his territory: His Hong Kong is grotesque, secretive, menacing, and wonderfully ironic. But this compelling examination of the city’s political and cultural complexities is finally overwhelmed by an unwieldy plot, creaky dialogue, melodramatic violence, and kinky scenes of sex and torture. (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-86521-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998