October 14, 2005

China Blue / A Tale of Cinema / Paradise Now

Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

As Jia Zhangke’s The World alluded to, China is experiencing the largest migration in history. More than 130 million residents have headed for the country’s southern provinces and taken up jobs at sweatshops. Micha Peled’s documentary China Blue follows 16-year-old Jasmine, who slaves long hours (one of the shifts lasted 27 hours) for below minimum wages (roughly $1 per hour) at a denim factory. She shares a dorm room with 11 others and pays for the lousy food served at the cafeteria and for hot water from the kitchen for washing. She also gets fined for tardiness, sneaking out, dozing off, or taking unscheduled bathroom breaks. Her factory charges its client $4 per pair of jeans, and turns around and retails it at 10 times that price. Even a worker’s-rights advocate concedes that a factory that provides workers adequate rest and pays minimum wages simply can’t stay competitive. Cogent and alarming, the film certainly will make you inspect the labels carefully and think twice the next time you’re out shopping.

When describing the halfway narrative bifurcation in Hong Sang-soo’s A Tale of Cinema, many critics are citing Tropical Malady. Are they forgetting that Mulholland Dr. likely shares the same strategy? This first half of Tale is actually a film within a film depicting the botched suicide attempt of two lovers (Lee Ki-woo, Uhm Ji-won). Later we learn that the first part is an unauthorized real-life account of Tong-su (Kim Sang-kyung), who is now smitten with the actress who played his ex-lover (Uhm). The distinction between the film-with-a-film and the supposed reality here is effected by the use of camera zooms. The quasi-Adaptation aspect of it is fun, but in the end Hong’s film just isn’t all that memorable.

Hany Abu-Assad’s latest Palestinian political drama is even more eye-opening and thought-provoking than his insightful last feature, Rana’s Wedding. Paradise Now examines the dynamics between two friends (Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman) after an aborted suicide-bombing mission changes one from conflicted to hell-bent and the other from gung ho to compassionate. The most fascinating aspects of the film are its Christian symbolism, its portrayal of the hypocrisy and indifference amongst the puppeteering extremist leaders, and how its protagonists react to the awakening of their consciences. Contemplating the catalytic impact of the two friends’ decisions on their loved ones, the film’s conclusion is so chilling that it’s simply unforgettable.

© Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.