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  • 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.
  • The Road To Mandalay is one of the piercing artworks of Asian cinema. It tells the story of two people who sneak into Thailand from Myanmar in search of a better life. What makes it so impactful is its simplicity and rawness. The narrative doesn't try to accentuate the throes of poor migrants as they struggle to eke out a living. It follows a rather disinterested, albeit plaintive, subtext as the protagonists move across the border multiple times and explore different ways to work things out.

    As days go on, one can feel their optimism dissipate and anguish build up. The cinematography is breath-taking, particularly the countryside scenes which tend to be highly evocative. There are a few stellar moments with subtle background score which underscores the intensity of those scenes. There's a scene where the couple travel in a jeep as it passes through a dense mist of clouds and fog. The scene had a strong imprint on me and lingered on long after the movie was over.

    The movie carries an ominous overtone without making the plot over-dramatic. It does a good job of retaining emotive elements without compromising on realism. The characters are real and so is their pain. All in all, an unforgettable movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This fascinating film tells the story of Lienching, a young Burmese woman who risks everything for a better life somewhere else.

    As directed by Myanmar native Midi Z, the unmade-up Wu Ke-xi is stunning as our protagonist. Her emotions are muted, yet her vulnerability is always there -- from her furtive float down a backwater stream, to the moment her smuggler's car is stopped at a checkpoint, to her midnight arrest for being an illegal, to her 300,000-baht ($10,000) payment for Thai ID -- and it is never more palpable than in the movie's shattering final frame.

    Ms. Wu is an impressive talent. Observing her subtly seductive facial expressions during Lienching's first try for a Bangkok office job, well, it just blows one away. We follow with a sense of dread as Lienching wends her way through a smoke-filled demi-world of pay-first, bags of cash, false papers, play-acting, and each-person-for-himself.

    Running counterpoint to Lienching's struggle are the ministrations of Guo (Kai Ko), a fellow illegal immigrant who seems as determined to snag Lienching for himself as she is to fatten her wallet. At first, Guo's attentions seem sweet -- i.e., he gives her his seat in the smuggler's car, while he lies drugged and prone in a dark space. But we start to mistrust Guo as we observe his mounting need for control.

    I was fortunate to have caught this film on the TV channel of the City University of New York, and it was followed by a taped discussion between professor Jeffrey Carlson and director Midi Z, who revealed that Ms. Wu and Kai Ko were the only professional actors in the production. That factor adds greatly to the film's believability.

    With superb characterizations and stunning cinematography, this movie keeps one riveted throughout. Its only happy scene, at a kind of water dance, will surely stay with me. Boy, did I want to jump in!

    The film ends effectively, though surprisingly, on a note of genuine horror.

    I am really eager to see more from Midi Z and friends! Now, where can I get a bowl of those instant noodles?
  • Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival (IFFR) 2017. It may be heart breaking to witness the situations an illegal immigrant has to cope with, having no one they can trust. They cannot even rely on official looking "officials" who produce impressively looking documents, that however prove to be of no legal value after all. Similarly, when an accident happens in the factory where they work under abominable circumstances, the issue is settled with an amount that is non-negotiable. Even worse, a contract must be signed at the spot to relieve the factory of all burdens. The worker has no choice but admit he has been careless, so the factory is not to blame. By the way: this accident did not affect any of our main protagonists, but it was illustrative for their uncertain position without any legal rights to depend on.

    Apart from the helpless situation of the immigrants, obvious being the main theme, the apparent love story between Guo and Lianging can be considered a second story line to bind subsequent developments together. Throughout the running time I had no idea what Guo's intentions were to be so helpful towards Lianging (there was no sex involved, as established later). The synopsis on the festival website talked about a "tragic love story that will not leave the heart unmoved", but it fails on me completely. At best, it leaves me with the assumption that I probably misunderstood it all, and I thus missed the whole point of this "love affair".

    All in all, this movie has all the looks of piggybacking on contemporary themes like illegal immigrants, showing how deplorable their situation is, and how everyone is trying to take advantage of their helpless situation. A typical case of "opportunistic" film making?? Anyway, the festival audience did not fall for it either, as this movie got stuck at a lowly 102nd place (out of 172) for the audience award.