The Road to Mandalay (2016) – Film Review
Director: Midi Z
Cast: Kai Ko, Ke-Xi Wu
by Ashleigh Millman
Describing The Road to Mandalay as a ‘slow-burner’ feels almost inappropriate. There’s slow, and then there’s stagnated – which Midi Z’s film runs the risk of falling into with each stilted scene during the first hour or so. Using elongated silences and subtlety to convey meaning rather than outright action, his filming style is appropriate for its subject matter; but can often times feel flat and dis-interesting instead of thoughtful.
The narrative follows Lianqing, (Ke-Xi Wu) a Burmese immigrant who has successfully smuggled herself into Thailand. Meeting fellow immigrant Guo (Kai Ko) during her journey, the two seem inextricably linked on trying to start a life in their unforgiving new country, though Lianqing’s desperation for a work permit soon dooms their blossoming love story.
Whilst Midi Z’s choices for the film make sense, it’s hard to remain engaged with a film that has so many sprawling silences, and extended scenes of menial interaction. It does reflect the hardship the characters go through, and by extension the struggles of immigrants in the real world, but the desolate atmosphere can sometimes become overbearing in place of inspiring quite consideration.
I’m not quite sure what Midi Z was intending with so many scenes of people eating noodles, but the dish is a focal point for many introductions – which feels rather repetitive.
Recognising that there is a certain overdrawn nature to each scene, there’s still plenty to be enjoyed within the film. The depiction of immigrant life and the difficulty to fit into an entirely new world that tries to push them out at every turn is particularly interesting, and as harrowing as one would expect.
Utilising two characters as the main protagonists aptly represents isolation, and the story specific to their relationship, which is soft and understated in place of a passionate love affair. Everything seems to be taken one notch down, both working in some elements, but rendering others less effective.
In saying this however, the film’s ending pushes all previous notions of boredom to one side, and makes use of the dark tone perpetuated throughout.
Overall, The Road to Mandalay is difficult to pigeonhole as either a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ film. It’s definitely a product of its culture, which might put off consumers used to westernised, Hollywood movies, but doesn’t necessarily denote it as unworthy of watching.
It’s a movie with a lot to say that doesn’t use words to do so, and one that is key in representing a nuanced version of life that we may not be used to or have experienced before. There are some beautiful, still frame shots that will stay with you, and others you will struggle to recall.
The Road to Mandalay is poignant but occasionally tedious, but it will end up smashing any preconceptions wide open with a truly disturbing ending.