Short Review of “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”

It costs one hundred to rent and several hundred to buy,  but I watched Who Killed Vincent Chin? last night after checking it out from a library. Vincent Chin was an engineer who killed in 1982 with the baseball bat by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler worker.

The documentary was positively reviewd in the New York Times and nominated for an Academy Award. It revolves around interviews with the killer, Ron Ebens, his wife, Juanita Ebens, and the victim’s mother, Lily. Ronald pled guilty to manslaughter (for which he was charged a $3,000 fine) and acquitted on a federal civil rights charge. A civil suit was filed after the documentary premiered, and is not covered in the presentation.


In the film, no one comes across worse than County Circuit judge Charles Kaufman (1920-2004). By the end of the film, it’s hard to sustain anger against Ron Ebens or even believe the federal prosecutor’s allegation of a racially-motivated killing: Ron seems to be a working-class thug, and a functioning justice system would process him accordingly. Judge Kaufman apparently did not agree to be interviewed, so his side of the story is told only by an embarrassing clip from an interview, with the judge complaining about being overworked.

Who Killed Vincent Chin is a deep documentary, one that provides a meta-narrative to coverage a scandal I have no memory of, and oen that could be extended an extra half-hour with all that has happened since its debut twenty years ago.

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One thought on “Short Review of “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”
  1. Perhaps you might like to also rent the 1972 Paul Newman movie “Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean”. This highly fictionalized biopic of a real man who was a Justice of the Peace in west Texas in the late 19th century contains this scene:

    Judge Roy Bean: Do you have anything to say before we find you guilty?
    Sam Dodd: I’m not guilty of nothing. There’s no crime that I’ve done wrong.
    Judge Roy Bean: Do you deny the killing?
    Sam Dodd: I do not deny it. But there’s no place in that book where it says nothing about killing a Chinese. And no one I know ever heard a law on greasers, niggers, or injuns.
    Judge Roy Bean: All men stand equal before the law. And I will hang a man for killing anyone, including Chinks, greasers, or niggers! I’m very advanced in my views and outspoken.
    Sam Dodd: There’s no place in that book that…
    Judge Roy Bean: Trust in my judgment of the book. Besides, you’re gonna hang no matter what it says in there, ’cause I am the law, and the law is the handmaiden of justice. Get a rope. [1]

    The reality was a bit different. An Irish railroad worker was brought before Bean’s court charged with killing a Chinese railroad worker. The Irishman’s friends threatened violence against Bean if he was convicted.

    Bean ruled that there was no law against killing Chinese in the 1876 Texas revised statutes.

    Maybe in 70 years somebody will make a humorous movie about Judge Kaufman that turns history on its head.


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