Welcome to the Friday The 13th The Series rewatch. Each day throughout October, we’ll watch one episode of the seminal 1987 television series and tackle the highs, the lows and Micki’s hair (of course). Now step into Curious Goods and peruse our cursed antiques, won’t you?
Wikipedia Plot Summary: Tommy Chen (Leonard Chow), a compulsive gambler in Chinatown, acquires tattoo needles that enable him to win big as long as someone else loses their life.
- Director: “Tales Of The Undead” director Lyndon Chubbuck returns for his second episode
- Writer: Stephen Katz, the writer of Cupid’s Quiver“” (aka the Atom Egoyan episode) returns for his second Friday episode, along with newcomer Dan DiStefano (he would go on to write for The Karate Kid TV series)
- Famous Guest Star: Keye Luke, the actor who plays Grandfather Chen, plays Mr. Wing in the Gremlins sequel
Cursed Antique of the Week: A set of Chinese tattoo needles whose tattoos come to life and kill to give the tattooist good luck
Setting: The opium dens and gambling halls of Chinatown
Best Death: Tommy’s acquaintance is about to hit Ryan (John D. LeMay) when a monster arm punches through his chest Alien-style and chokes him to death. It’s nonsensical, but fun
Quirkiest Add-On: You can clearly see the Toronto streetcar in the background of a street scene. Scarily they haven’t changed since ’87!
Character Bits: Lewis Vendredi is revealed to be a terrible “deal with the devil” antiques vendor considering the box of tattoos literally reads “Great evil” on the outside
Corny Finish Line: “No, I’m not a healer. But I’ve always been very interested in the art.” Jack (Chris Wiggins) is truly a student of the world, isn’t he?
80s Fashion Closet: It’s clearly late fall or early winter when they shot this episode and there are plenty of exterior scenes, so most everyone is wearing trench coats. Still, Micki (Louise Robey)’s hair now has bangs, which is…something. The best look, however, has to be the cocktail waitress in the opening scene, whose wig looks straight out of BladeRunner
Kissing Cousins Incest Watch: Nada. I’m starting to get fidgety!
After “Vanity’s Mirror” delivered a series best, it’s only natural that “Tattoo” would feel like a lesser episode. And yet, it acquits itself decently with an intriguing story that leans into the relationship of Chinese families. Tommy may be a self-destructive narcissist, but his Grandfather’s willingness to protect him out of tradition is an unique family dynamic that we haven’t seen on the series before. The Chen family focus, however, means that “Tattoo” dedicates less screen time for the Curious Goods team, so audience mileage may vary based on how invested they are in these one-off characters.
Also: the animated tattoos that turn into (mostly) creepy crawlies are kind of a cool twist on what could have been a rote cursed object of the week. You can definitely see the residual influence of “Tales Of The Undead” here.
What Doesn’t Work…
An 80s episode set in Chinatown raised some immediate red flags as the representation of minorities by white writers on genre television is fraught with tension (looking at you, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues). Although the family conflicts within the Chen family are handled delicately, there are a lot of other offensive stereotypes at play in “Tattoo.” The worst offender is the inclusion of a fucking opium den and a Chinese character who — naturally — uses kung fu when he fights Ryan. The resulting cultural depiction of Chinese characters is…not great at best and downright offensive at worst.
Besides the problematic depiction of the Chinese community, the cursed object — the tattoo needles — are also quite bland. I gave credit to the animated tattoos in the pro column above, but expanding beyond this episode, we’ve already seen several iterations (some bad, some good) of a cursed object that is exchanges murder for profit. It’s a tad disconcerting that Friday The 13th is already recycling variations of the same narrative so early in its run.
Stream of Consciousness Musings
- Whoa – check out the hair on “Lady Luck” at the table in the opening scene
- Considering how integral gambling is to this episode, it would have been interesting to spend a little more time on the actual game that’s being played since it’s not poker or craps like usual
- Tommy borrowed money from Frankie Chow (Harvey Chow) at double the interest a week? Yikes – this kid really was desperate
- I’ll confess that I’ve never understood how loan sharks profit from hurting people. Frankie gives Tommy “a short week – 24 hours” to get all of his money back to him which is clearly not going to pan out (at least not without magic!). I’m unsure how Frankie would ever get his $$$ back on this deadline; it’s not as though Tommy has collateral or a plan to come up with the funds
- The location scout who sold the production team on this factory-like “basement” where all of the murders are committed should be scolded. There is absolutely no way that this space exists underneath a Chinatown club. The reality is that that place would be the size of a small den
- The woman who is killed with the white wig gives me all kinds of Big Trouble in Little China vibes, which also feels kinda racist
- I’m unsure about the moment when Tommy and his Grandfather have their first fight and Tommy punches him. That seems like a very extreme reaction that would have been better saved for later on (ie: when Tommy breaks the family bowls right before the climax)
- “I need those needles. Those needles are my life!” may be the funniest line of dialogue in this episode
- That opium den scene? Just ugh
- I just can’t when Micki complains about the basket of crabs that Ryan traded for information. C’mon Micki, that basket would have been hella expensive and those crabs look delicious
- I appreciated the fact that it is revealed that you don’t need “skill” to operate the tattoo needles (just “magic”) because the resulting designs look very intricate and professional
- It’s pretty evident from the moment that Tommy’s sister, Linda (Mung-Ling Tsui) tells Micki where Tommy gambles that she’s going to wind up on the chopping block. I suppose it’s better than Micki being the one in danger like always
- The moment where Ryan discovers the first woman’s body stuffed in the basement and Tommy’s friend attacks him did not work for me. Unless he didn’t actually see the body, it makes no sense for this guy to automatically begin fighting
- Frankie tells the Curious Goods crew “What brings you to a part of town where you’re not wanted?” and later “We have our own customs, our own ways”. This is another uncomfortable depiction of casual racism because it infers that white people are automatically considered outsiders by Chinese people
- Also: I didn’t know whether to groan or clap when the crew use fucking fireworks to open the locked door
- The “very high risk” game turns out to be Russian Roulette, which doesn’t exactly fit with the cultural specificity of the episode. Also: how would Frankie profit off this game (aside from being able to provide a really dumb person to play)? The game is 50/50 luck, so those are pretty bad odds
- Does Grandfather Chen give Jack a healing blowgun? I’m confused
- I enjoy that Micki’s entire contribution in the finale involves shouting Tommy’s name before he inadvertently blows his own brains out. I suppose it’s still more than Ryan does
See you back here tomorrow for Friday The 13th The Series episode seventeen: “The Electrocutioner”, which is going to break my autocorrect