Road to Mandalay, The (2016)

Review #1,377

Director:  Midi Z
Cast:  Kai Ko, Wu Ke-Xi
Plot:  Two Burmese immigrants flee their country's civil war in search of a new life in Thailand.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Fedeora Award for Best Film - International Film Critics Week (Venice).  Won 1 Golden Horse - Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year.  Nom. for 6 Golden Horses - Best Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction.  
Runtime:  108min
Rating:  NC16 for some violence and drug use
Internatonal Sales:  Urban Distribution International
Singapore Distributor:  The Filmic Eye

From its title, one would have expected a kind of road movie, but while The Road to Mandalay features some truly breathtaking shots of commute across tarmac and dirt tracks in a natural landscape of beautiful and bountiful greenery, the film is largely static as it paints bleakly the life of a Burmese-Chinese who crosses the border illegally to Thailand to find a job to support herself and her family. 

The person in question is Lianqing (Wu Ke-Xi), and she represents anyone and everyone in the world struggling as an illegal immigrant toiling for meagre pay in a foreign country.  The film opens with a long take with her on a short sampan ride across a river.  In the distance above the trees, we see the Myanmar national flag waving, oblivious to the clandestine activities below.  It is a quiet, suspenseful scene that sets up the slow-building pace, which escalates into an inevitable intensity by the end of the film.

Kai Ko stars opposite Wu in a role that is sure to revive his once promising career (remember You Are the Apple of My Eye?) that was set back by a major drug scandal.  He plays Guo, a Burmese-Chinese also working illegally in Thailand.  He has a chance meeting with Lianqing as they cross the border.  Smitten by her, but professes a differing perspective on life and work, his hints of courtship are unrequited. 

Director Midi Z treads his narrative carefully, without sentiment in his depiction of romance, and with utter detachment in his portrayal of corruption by low-ranking Thai immigration officers.  Here’s a film that hides its characters’ inner intentions and vulnerabilities well, only to be expressed, cathartically or otherwise, in a bout of uncontrollable rage. 

One scene that sees a despairing Guo hurtling wood into a huge fire cauldron releases—through its imagery and haunting sound design—the external manifestation of his troubled psyche.  Here’s a character who cannot deal with a life without reciprocal affection, without a meaningful future.

Midi Z, who is trained in Taiwan as a filmmaker despite his Burmese roots, has made a confident fourth feature, an assured follow-up to his breakthrough, Ice Poison (2014), which won Best Director at the Taipei Film Festival.  He is certainly a rising talent, whose works continue to shine a light on the voiceless and faceless as they struggle for survival in a world that has cruelly left them behind. 

Verdict:  An excellent low-key drama about the perils of working in a foreign country as an illegal immigrant, directed with assurance and confident pacing by rising filmmaker Midi Z.


Click here to go back to Central Station.

Singapore International Film Festival 2016 Premiere -- Photo Credit: David Lee

Singapore International Film Festival 2016 In Conversation Series



Popular Posts