Mercury Cinema, Tue 29 Sep
This powerful and important film was made in 1982 but it remains just as controversial, disturbing and pertinent today.
In post-war Vietnam, (circa 1976) Japanese photojournalist Shiomi Akutagawa, beautifully played by George Lam, is haunted by an encounter with a war-damaged child in Vietnam. An orphan himself after the WWII bombing of Japan, he is concerned for the welfare of the Vietnamese children orphaned and displaced by the war. Considered a “Foreign Friend” who can show the world how well the new Vietnamese government is treating its people, he is accorded the freedom to photograph in the orphanages and on the streets, with delightful results.
He is an honest and likeable man, though a little naïve, but genuinely eager to be of help to the local people. As he becomes involved with a Vietnamese family struggling to survive, he hits upon the confronting reality of life under the new communist regime. Contrary to the positive images presented to him by the government, he discovers that random executions, starving children and stomach-turning brutality are daily occurrences for the Vietnamese people.
Young men, savagely taken by the army to dig for mines and unexploded bombs, are tortured if they do not comply and blown up when they do. These scenes were so terrifying and stunningly shot, that I could not watch the screen.
Shocking in its reality, and heart-warming in its humanity, this film is captivating, gritty and raw. The performances are timeless and the characters believable. A young Andy Lau is compelling as street survivor, To Minh, passionately determined to buy a way out of this hell for his best friend, and himself.
Newcomer Season Ma stole the film as Cam Nuong, the teenage girl who is a driving force in this story. Strong beyond her years, caring for her brothers and mother, she provides focus for Akutagawa as he strives to save her from the inevitable future offered in her homeland.
I have never known the kind of daily terror and desperation for survival that would force people to climb into a leaky boat with nothing but their clothes and hope, and risk the open seas, if they didn’t get slaughtered first, in an attempt to reach a safer place.
This multi-award winning film, positioned at No. 8 in the 2005 list of China’s 100 Best Films, gives humbling insight into how much courage that would take.
Ann Hui – A Career Retrospective continues at Mercury Cinema until Sun 4 Oct.