is not exactly a budding Walter White. His partner is more daring, but her
willingness to sample their goods does not bode well. Thanks to Burma’s
economic stagnation, the young protagonists willingly make some very problematic
choices in Midi Z’s Ice Poison (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
we first meet the former farmer, he is so poor, Midi Z’s screenplay does not
even grant him a proper name. With prices for their vegetables tumbling, the
man and his father hock the family cow to buy a scooter. The old man seems to
think there is good money to be made shuttling people home from the local bus
depot, but proper cabs take most of that business. His surly son can only
scuffle odd delivery jobs. However, that might be just what Sanmei needs.
into an involuntary marriage in China, Sanmei has been granted leave to bury
her failing grandfather. Even though she left behind a child in Yunnan, she has
no intention of returning. Determined to make some real money, she gets
involved with her drug dealing cousin. Her deal with the scooter driver is
simple. If he does the driving, she will handle all the exchanges, giving him a
healthy cut for his efforts. They might not be Bonnie and Clyde, but we can all
assume they are headed in a similar direction. Yet despite their reckless
behavior, Midi Z would not have us judge them harshly. After all, they have
taken some pretty drastic steps to secure legitimate work, only to be
disappointed at every step.
Ice is an unusually ambitious film,
grappling with at least two and a half hot button issues. Obviously, Midi Z
shines a light on Burma’s drug related social pathologies. He also directly
addresses the plight of migrant workers, particularly with respects to
bait-and-switch white slavery. Finally, Poison
drops intriguing, if under-developed, hints regarding the extent secular
modernity has challenged cultural and religious traditions. As a case in point,
Sanmei’s return from China was delayed so she could retrieve her grandfather’s
burial clothes, which had to be secretly buried themselves to survive the
Burma-born, Taiwan-based Midi Z is almost a one-man dynamo for the nascent
Burmese film business (and they do call their nation Burma, rather than “Myanmar”).
His eye for visuals has sharpened considerably since Return to Burma. However, the narrative balance is a bit out of
whack. He spends considerably more time establishing the crumminess of the two
protagonists’ lives than building suspense around their illicit trade. Still,
the closing scene will knock the wind out of audiences, vividly reminding us
just who the biggest loser is amidst this tale of woe.
her frequent collaborations with Midi Z, Wu Ke-xi probably qualifies as the
first lady of Burmese cinema. In a chilling performance, she conveys both
desperate vulnerability as well as a chillingly nihilistic inclination. In
contrast, Wang Shin-hong is almost too reserved as the scooter-driver, even making
it rather tricky to discern when he is stoned. Nevertheless, when he loses it
down the stretch, it is something fierce to behold.
Poison is not a perfect
film, but it is significant, both as a symbol of Burma’s cinematic potential
and a documentary like exercise in holding a mirror up to nature. It is a bit
slack at times, but the stakes are about as serious as could be. Recommended
who those who appreciate challenging social dramas, Ice Poison screens again tonight (4/22) during this year’s Tribeca Film
Labels: Burmese Cinema, Midi Z, Tribeca '14