Monday, July 12, 2010

Red River

Strange to be reviewing a Chinese film here?
Not when it's a fascinating - and exceedingly quirky - movie about illegal Vietnamese workers in a Chinese border town. I found Red River quite an insightful, though naturally melodramatic, look at the fascinating dynamics at work in these border areas.
Set in 1997, it is the story of a mentally disabled Vietnamese girl who is smuggled into China by her aunt and set to work at a massage parlour. Tao is an eternal innocent, and is protected by her aunt by being put to work as a cleaner. Nonetheless, she captures the eye of local Vietnamese crime boss Sha Ba.
The movie shies away from any commentary on the sex industry, though Tao, the innocent young Vietnamese girl, is bought and sold several times by improbably respectful men. These elisions aside, it is a fascinating commentary on the experiences of poor rural Vietnamese girls and the struggles they face. The film's setting in 1997 is exactly right, as rural poverty in Vietnam was then still quite stark, and China was only just beginning to prosper.
The film's blurb attempts to cast it as some kind of post-colonial love story, but ironically it is much more a commentary on China's neo-colonialism, and the difficult financial realities that confront women across South-East Asia.
It is silly in parts, but also frequently touching, and ultimately quite complex - and hence realistic. Well worth watching, though it is no masterpiece. And why on earth couldn't they find a Vietnamese actress to play the lead role?

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