The Road to Mandalay: Being an illegal immigrant in Bangkok
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2016: A young woman and the odyssey she goes through to obtain a work permit are at the centre of the latest film by rising Asian film star Midi Z, co-produced by France and Germany
It’s a story of desperate, Shakespearian love, but we only realise this at the end. Because The Road to Mandalay [+see also:
interview: Midi Z
film profile], by Myanmar filmmaker and rising Asian film star Midi Z, which was presented in the Venice Days section at Venice, is first and foremost a story of migration and hope, of obstinacy in the face of obstacles and of waiting, waiting for a work permit that never seems to come. We’re in South-East Asia, but like in Europe, the journey of a migrant here collides with the harsh law of human traffickers and the brutal exploitation of labour.
Mandalay is the old royal capital of Myanmar, and it is there that migrants re-enter their country after trying their luck in Thailand. A return home that could be in store one day for Lianqing (played by Taiwanese actress Wu Ke-Xi), who enters Thailand illegally after crossing the Mekong river, stowing away in a van and being dropped off in Bangkok, her final destination. During the journey, she draws the attentions of Guo (played by actor and singer Kai Ko), who, once they arrive at their destination, becomes a sort of guardian angel to her. He finds her a job in a factory, brings her food everyday, and wants to marry her, but Lianqing’s priorities lie elsewhere: she wants to get a work permit so that she can find a job in the city, followed by a Thai passport so that she can travel.
But getting hold of these documents turns into an odyssey for the young woman, between opportunists, scams and outlays of money, which nonetheless do nothing to crush her determination, whilst Guo stands in her way. He fails to understand why Lianqing can’t be happy with what she has and slowly starts to lose his mind, also as a result of the amphetamines he takes to keep up with his toilsome work shifts. He’s seeking security in love, she in personal fulfilment. It all builds up to a conclusion as breathtaking as it is unpredictable.
It is into the abyss of precarity, being uprooted and the absence of rights, with a glimmer of solidarity between fellow countrymen, that Midi Z’s film transports us. A blunt and accurate portrayal of the condition of the many Burmese migrants living in Thailand, searching for opportunities that often end in disaster, based on a number of true stories (among them, the story of the director’s brother), which show us how the world, when it comes to problems of integration, is extraordinarily small.
The Road to Mandalay is a co-production between Myanmar, Taiwan, France (House on Fire) and Germany (Bombay Berlin Film Production), and received contributions from the CNC and the Berlinale World Cinema Fund. International sales are being handled by French company Urban Distribution International.
(Translated from Italian)