The title of Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based Midi Z’s fourth fiction feature, The Road to Mandalay, conjures Kipling-esque Orientalist visions of the far east. But this starkly rendered yet poetic film offers the exact opposite, focusing on characters forced to navigate the merciless present-day realities of national borders, law-enforcement corruption, and rampant exploitation. It’s billed as a “romance,” which initially seems like an odd description, given that a love affair would seem a remote possibility for the two central characters.
Lianqing (Z regular Wu Ke-xi) and Guo (Taiwanese dreamboat Kai Ko) meet while being smuggled across the Mekong River from Myanmar into Thailand. Lianqing—all ruthless, steely resolve—is a young woman who’s the Malcolm X of undocumented Burmese immigrants; she’ll get those fake papers and a decent job by any means necessary. Guo has naively romantic notions of marrying and returning to Myanmar after earning money. Lianqing and Guo’s divergent life goals violently clash, literally so in the conclusion, which may seem like an out-of-nowhere shock-ending, but is in fact the logical endpoint of the slow violence of dehumanization done to the undocumented—by no means only in Thailand—which Z so meticulously and powerfully depicts.
Previously published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 1.