From The New York Asian Film Festival ’17: Our Review of ‘Road to Mandalay’

From The New York Asian Film Festival ’17: Our Review of ‘Road to Mandalay’

Rising Burmese director Midi Z’s brings Road To Mandalay to the NYAFF. And in many ways it shows what great film making look like because he does it right. Lianqing (Wu Ke-Xi) and Guo (Ko Chen-tung) are Chinese-Burmese leaving their home districts to go to Thailand. It’s a short distance yet one with too many checkpoints to their liking. And even in the opening shot of the river they’re crossing there’s a sense of clarity in Midi Z’s eye. Only a few people can make a three minute long static shot seem pleasant.

We’ll get more long takes here, showing how the frame excludes, hinting at how disconnected Lianquing is from Thailand. The only thing connecting Lianing and Guo are that they traveled to Thailand together. However, that can be enough for some people. From the beginning Guo seems to arbitrarily make sacrifices for her. He literally lies down at a bottom crawlspace of a pickup truck so that she can take the front seat. This is mostly Lianqing’s movie, showing her struggles with finding her place in a new country that discriminates against her. But Guo pops up once in a while, offering her jobs.

Speaking from experience, being an immigrant is not easy. But it’s as if Midi Z wanted to make a horror story out of Lianqing’s life. That destroys any craftsmanship that he displays on screen. A lot of the film concerns her and her fellow immigrants trying to get expensive Thai work permits. Those end up being bogus. And the way Guo pops up into her life becomes an overtly symbolic immigrant vs. immigrant story. He also becomes more menacing in a way that seems out of character. It’s like Midi Z is preparing them for a shock ending that comes off as unnecessary.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.