The Road to Mandalay
As immigration continues to reshape societies across the world, the displacement experience is, more than ever, rife ground for artistic inspiration. Young director Midi Z has created his most sophisticated film yet by masterfully presenting the subject beyond sensationalism and clichés. The Road to Mandalay draws attention to the plight of Burmese citizens who flee their native land for better chances, only to face bureaucratic walls and become caught in catch-22s that leave them socially stranded. Powerful to the core, the movie is not only festival material, but it is also a bold step in the right direction politically speaking.
The main character is 23-year-old Lianqing (Wu Ke-xi), a girl who crosses the border from Myanmar to Thailand aboard a jeep with an all-male group of fellow immigrants. A young man named Guo (Kai Ko) shows kindness towards Lianging by offering his more comfortable (and expensive) seat, and once in Bangkok he maintains contact with her and attempts to help her whenever he can. Even as she works in less than ideal circumstances, Liaging never loses sight of her objective to obtain the documents that would grant her the freedom to work legally and travel. One obstacle after the other, however, knock down her expectations and Guo’s hopes to build a decent life with her.
The Road to Mandalay inevitably voices a political message, but it never shouts for attention, and its quiet, matter-of-fact approach makes it all the more effective. It completely forgoes a dramatised tone, offering an account that would seem uneventful were it not for the mounting anxiety bubbling beneath, that eventually becomes a quagmire ready to swallow up the most vulnerable. To present the story as a romance would be to belittle its profound and far reaching social message.
The cinematography has an enchanting feel that gives the story a fable-like touch, with long takes and reoccurring motifs making it truly absorbing. The most fascinating character is Guo, whose emotional development is powerfully drawn by Kai Ko. There is a soberness, in fact, in all the characters that heightens the sense of realism.
What is most chilling is to see an entire society exploit and trample on its subjects without a hint of compassion. The Road to Mandalay is a bold and intrepid project by Midi Z, one that will no doubt have a significant impact within the societies it depicts. For a Western audience, it is all the more eye-opening as it reveals a reality that most know to exist, but that very few have explored enough to know its day-to-day struggles and realise what it can imply emotionally.
The Road to Mandalay is released nationwide on 29th September 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Road to Mandalay here: