Wednesday, October 26, 2022

2022 Blind Spot Series: Boat People


Directed by Ann Hui and screenplay by Chiu Kang-Chien from a story by Tin Goh, Tau Ban No Hoi (Boat People) is the story of a Japanese photojournalist who travels to Vietnam three years after the war where he meets a young teenage girl and her family as they try to flee the country. The third film in a trilogy of films relating to the events of Vietnam from the 1950s to the 1970s, the film is an exploration of a family dealing with the fallout of the war and their attempt to escape the country. Starring George Lam, Andy Lau, Cora Miao, and Season Ma. Tau Ban No Hoi is a hauntingly rich film from Ann Hui.

Set three years after the events of the Vietnam War, the film revolves around a Japanese photojournalist who returns to the country three years after covering the liberation of Danang where he is tasked to report on the country’s progress where he is shown things that the government wants him to show but also shielding the truth from him as he meets a 14-year old girl and her family. It is a film in which an outsider sees what Vietnam had become after the war and the lack of progress it has towards people who live near or in the poverty line while also meeting those wanting to leave as well as an officer disillusioned with what the revolution had become. Chui Kang-Chien’s screenplay is largely straightforward as it is told mainly from the perspective of its protagonist Shiomi Akutagawa (George Lam) who is just a photojournalist given the chance to take pictures of life after the war where he is accompanied by government officials to certain places to show this progress and propaganda that they’re spouting.

Yet, Akutagawa’s meeting with this 14-year old girl in Cam Nuong (Season Ma) would change everything as he learns about her awful living conditions with her sickly prostitute mother and two younger brothers. The script also has a subplot involving a young man To Minh (Andy Lau), who used to be a translator for American soldiers, who wants to leave Vietnam with the help of a Chinese prostitute (Coria Miao) who is involved with black-market trade as she is also the lover of a disillusioned government official in Nguyen (Qi Meng-Shi) who had been educated in France as he is appalled by what the country is becoming. Even as he privately talks to Akutagawa as he is someone that didn’t mind being colonized since it allowed him to visit other countries and such where he had a broader perspective on things instead of Vietnam’s attempt to create its own identity with ties to other communist countries at the time.

Ann Hui’s direction is entrancing for not just the compositions she creates but also for showcasing an air of realism that showcases a perspective that isn’t seen often as it relates to those not on board with life in post-war Vietnam in the late 70s. Shot on location at Hainan Island in Southeast China, Hui definitely uses the location as Danang where it opens following its liberation with a band of Vietcong soldiers marching with people waving the Vietcong flag as Akutagawa is shooting pictures of this event as there is a brief shot of a woman on a balcony in the street pulling a South Vietnamese flag from view. Hui’s wide and medium shots doesn’t just get a nice scope of the locations including some scenes near the sea including a conversation between Akutagawa and Nguyen. There are also some close-ups that do play into the horror such as what Nuong and one of her brothers do following an execution as it play into the sense of despair of what the poor has to do to survive. For Akutagawa, it’s a reality that he is capturing on camera that the government doesn’t want him to see as he also meets To Minh who talks about the chaos within the country which is why he wants to leave.

Hui also play into the chaos that occurs in the government where Akutagawa would get himself in trouble at times from soldiers despite his pass that allows him to take photographs. Yet, he would later see things without his camera such as a visit to an area known as the New Economic Zone where he got a glimpse of what really goes on there along with a visit to a camp he went to weeks earlier where children sang to him as he sees what is really happening. Notably in acts of violence where there’s a scene of Minh and a fellow prisoner both are on the ground trying to find landmines which they have to use a stick to feel something slowly or else they trigger a mine and they get blown up. It is among some of the darkest moments of the film while its climax is about Akutagawa coping with Nuong’s fate in relation to the actions of the government as well as what he would do for her and her family. Especially as they would leave Vietnam for the unknown where Hui brings an ambiguity into the dangers of what Akutagawa is doing but also why these black-market boats are so important for those wanting to leave Vietnam at that time. Overall, Hui crafts a visceral and entrancing film about a Japanese photojournalist dealing with the chaos of life in post-war Vietnam for those who don’t benefit from its changes.

Cinematographer Wong Cheung-Gei does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has a richness in some of its daytime exteriors along with its emphasis on low-key lights for the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Kin Kin does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in playing to the drama with some rhythmic cuts and jump-cuts to play into some of the suspense and action. Art director Tony Au Ting-Ping does amazing work with the sets such as the dilapidated home that Nuong and her family live in as well as the bar/brothel that some of the characters go to.

Costume designer Wong Saan-Ngai does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the world that the characters are in with the exception of the government officials with their khaki-looking uniforms. Sound recordists Fan Lee and Hong Lu do superb work with the sound in the way explosions and gunfire sound from afar or up close as well as other elements to play into its natural setting. The film’s music by Law Wing-Fai is incredible for its orchestral score that is filled with some upbeat themes driven by its string arrangements along with some somber and heavy themes that play into the drama.

The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Cheung Tung-Sing as a prison camp doctor, Lin Shu-Jin as Akutagawa’s liaison officer Vu, Le Van Quyen as a prison camp official, Wu Shu-Jun as Nuong’s younger brother Van Nhac who deals in black-market stuff, Guo Jun-Yi as Nuong’s youngest brother Van Lang, and Hao Jia-Ling as Nuong’s sickly prostitute mother. Cora Miao is fantastic as an un-named prostitute/brothel-bar owner who is a mistress to Nguyen as she also deals in the black market while trying to help Minh leave Vietnam even though they’re having an affair that Nguyen doesn’t know. Qi Meng-Shi is excellent as Nguyen as a government official who befriends Akutagawa as a man who had been raised during Vietnam’s colonial period as he has become disillusioned with what Vietnam has become as well as lamenting over its propaganda which he sees as constraining.

Andy Lau is brilliant as To Minh as a young man who used to work with the U.S. army as he is trying to get money to get out of Vietnam as he deals with a lot of things while befriending Akutagawa whom he accompanies to a secret place that ends up being far more troubling. Season Ma is amazing as Cam Nuong as a 14-year old girl struggling to help her family while dealing with her poor state while befriending Akutagawa whom she sees as someone who can help her. Finally, there’s George Lam in a phenomenal performance as Shiomi Akutagawa as a Japanese photojournalist who was at the liberation of Danang where he would return 3 years later to see what Vietnam has become after the war where he deals with what the government is trying to hide from him as well as the fact that there’s people who aren’t benefiting from these changes as it is a somber performance of an outsider who is aware that he has a little power to make changes for those who need a better life.

Tau Ban No Hoi is a tremendous film from Ann Hui. Featuring a great cast, rapturous visuals, a riveting music score, and its exploration of life in post-war Vietnam. It is a film that is discomforting to watch in terms of its violence yet it is carried by this story of an outsider trying to get the truth out while helping out those who are troubled by a repressive government regime. In the end, Tau Ban No Hoi is a spectacular film from Ann Hui.

Ann Hui Films: (The Spooky Bunch) – (The Story of Woo Viet) – (Love in a Fallen City) – (The Romance of Book and Sword) – (Princess Fragrance) – (The Swordsman (1990 film)) – (Song of the Exile) – (Zodiac Killers) – (Summer Snow) – (As Time Goes By (1997 film)) – (Eighteen Springs) – (Ordinary Heroes (1999 film)) – (Visible Secret) – (July Rhapsody) – (Jade Goddess of Mercy) – (The Postmodern Life of My Aunt) – (The Way We Are) – (Night and Fog (2009 film)) – (All About Love (2010 film)) – (A Simple Life (2011 film)) – (The Golden Era) – (Our Time Will Come) – (Love After Love (2020 film))

© thevoid99 2022

1 comment:

Brittani Burnham said...

I've never heard of this, but it sounds like something I'd enjoy.

I swear my list grows every time I visit your blog lol