Film review: The Road to Mandalay – Kai Ko and Wu Ke-xi elevate ponderous tale of would-be lovers seeking a better life in Thailand

Illegal immigrants struggle to find work and dignity in Taipei-based Burmese writer-director Midi Z’s slow-burner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 5:04pm

3.5/5 stars

The constant struggles to make a life in their unforgiving new surroundings take their toll on two illegal Burmese immigrants in The Road to Mandalay, the fourth and most commercial narrative feature to date by the Taipei-based Burmese writer-director Midi Z, who was named the Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year at the recent Golden Horse Awards.

A melancholy drama that unfolds at a slow-burning pace, Z’s visually engrossing film is elevated by reserved yet indelible turns by Tiny Times star Kai Ko Chen-tung and Z regular Wu Ke-xi. As would-be lovers whose destinies are entwined on a van carrying them from the Burmese border to Bangkok, they bring intense focus and a suitably haunted look to their tragic roles.

After she’s advised against joining her friends as sex workers, the ambitious Lianqing (Wu) works long shifts as a dishwasher to send money home and pay for bribes to secure documents needed for a city job in the Thai capital. Then an arrest at the restaurant reunites her with the quietly smitten Guo (Ko), who helps Lianqing find employment in a rural textile factory.

While Lianqing is determined to find a better life abroad, the contented Guo struggles to win her over with his modest marriage plans. Few words of affection are exchanged between the pair, whose pent-up emotions find an outlet in the film’s shocking ending. And it feels like a minor cop-out, given the tender way that Z has lured us into caring for his deeply flawed protagonists.

Myanmar gets first glimpse of its most famous director Midi Z’s film, The Road to Mandalay

The Road to Mandalay opens on December 1

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