Abacus: Small Enough to Jail


Director Steve James

This 2018 Oscar nominee for Documentary Feature deserve the attention it’s getting, as Mr. James brings his exemplary storytelling skills to the media-ignored subject of a small family owned and run bank in New York’s Chinatown facing an Federal indictment for fraud. The intimate portrayal of a small bank being prosecuted for relatively minor issues while huge banks costing the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars remain un-prosecuted is only part of the story. We also learn how the bank is a vital resource to the Chinese community, and how the culture of that community and its relationship to banking and authority affect the trial.

The most compelling aspects for me beyond the injustice of a wrongly prosecuted bank, is the portrait of the Sung family who embody much of the strength and resilience of typical immigrant families in the U.S. How the four daughters of the bank’s founder Thomas Sung come together to support and defend their father and cause, and how the family’s dynamics are revealed, are fascinating, lending heart and warmth to what could have been a more typically cold legal story.

That ultimately the family prevails in court and is found not guilty in all of the 200+ counts is a relief tempered by the fact that it costs them 5 years and $10M to defend themselves. The emotional toll it takes on each family member is also evident and makes the injustice of this small bank being singled out for prosecution while national banks escape the same level of scrutiny by NY City DA Cyrus Vance and the Federal Government even harder to swallow. An important subject and a film worthy of recognition. Should See