Lauded documentarian Steve James (best known for his seminal “Hoop Dreams”) returns to the documentary arena with his festival hit, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” another incredible true story that’s almost too cinematic to be believed. But “Abacus” is very real indeed, and it comes complete with complex commentary on such topics as the financial crisis, the more byzantine side of the legal system, and even the necessity of family in tough times. It’s got a little bit of everything, compellingly told as only James could.
The film tells the bizarre and strange story of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. After the 2008 financial crisis, Abacus was accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and it became the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges.
The indictment and subsequent trial pushed patriarch Thomas Sung and his daughters to defend not just themselves and their family, but their well-respected Chinatown institution as well. As the legal battle stretched out over an incredible five years, the Sungs are forced to contend with a series of twists and turns and upheavals that would fell plenty of others. The Sungs, however, stood tall, and the result is a moving (and often maddening) look inside their lives together.
In our exclusive clip below, get to know the Sungs a little bit better, and brace yourself for the shocking fallout to come.
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” will open in New York on Friday, May 19, with a national rollout to follow.