Thailand is where the hopes and dreams of millions of illegal immigrants from Myanmar are realized, or – more often - crushed. The Road to Mandalay focuses on two such determined immigrants, Lianqing and Guo, who are each in search of a better life. They meet by chance, after just crossing the border, in a pick-up truck traveling deeper into Thailand. Guo kindly offers Lianqing his more comfortable and expensive spot in the truck. However, Guo's kindness does not end here. He keeps offering Lianqing contacts, jobs, food, places to stay and more. She won't be bought though, not by him or anyone else, despite the intense pressure to sell her body. Yet the alternative is dangerous, degrading and monotonous work, 14 hour workdays, documents and permits perpetually out of reach, a crowded cement floor for a bed, running from the police, dirty air and everywhere there are tolls and bribes to pay, among other obstacles. Drugs dull the pain for Guo, yet selfless and hard-working Lianqing soberly continues to try to follow the rules. One of the two will give in to the relentless pressure.
The Road to Mandalay is invigorated with unforgettable and resplendent scenes, alternately tragic and uplifting. Among these scenes; Lianqing emerges from a factory after a long shift and is splashed with water by dancing, joyful co-workers, Lianqing clings to Guo on a moped in the rain and cries after a deep disappointment, and Guo tenderly places a necklace on Lianqing's neck. This enlightening, timely and poignant film aids in the understanding of the plight and vulnerability of illegal immigrants. The actors, despite their young ages and lack of experience – or perhaps because of such things, are capable and compelling. The camera-work is wonderful, often focusing on the eyes of the characters for dramatic effect. As always, it is fascinating to begin to understand a different culture and people. Thai, Burmese, English and Chinese are some of the languages used in the film. Seen at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.
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