Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Illegal Immigrant (1985)

The Illegal Immigrant (1985)This is the 1st of Mabel Cheung's Migration Trilogy, which won her the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director. The 2nd in the Trilogy is Autumn's Tale (1987), which won her the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film. This 3rd is Eight Taels of Gold (1989). which was nominated for both categories, but won neither.

The Migration Trilogy were either wrote or co-wrote by her husband Alex Law (dunno if they already married back then).

The Migrant Trilogy are 3 of the 1st 4 films she made and already accumulated a number of accolades. A quick glance at her filmography shows that - like Ann Hui, another female fellow director - she's a director who tackles HK's social and political issues.

A decade or so before the British handover of HK in 1997, because of the political uncertainty, there was a large wave of migration out of HK (I befriended a number of them). The year 1997 thus was a deadline for some HK people if they wanted to leave safely.

Quite a number of films tried to deal with these jitter. Her trilogy attempts to explore the issues of the lives of HK people living abroad. As you could imagine, the whole of HK was permeated with this pre-HK-handover jitter.

It's hard for an outsider to appreciate the HK Returning to PRC jitter given the economic 'miracle' of China in the 3 decades since the Opening-Up, and Reform in 1978. What many outsiders didn't know was the flood of thousands of Mainland Chinese had been pouring down south into HK ILLEGALLY throughout the 1970 - 80 decades. Many risked their lives escaping PRC and tried to make it to HK for a better life.

But that was not all. There was also a Vietnamese refugees camp set up in HK to house the flood of Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Communist Vietnam since the mid 1970s to the 1980s. These issues were being dealt with in Ann Hui's Vietnamese Trilogy.

For HK citizens who regularly watched the news would get a very clear message: people lived under Communist countries were fleeing with their lives. On what basis could the HK citizens should not fear the handing back of HK to the Communist China? And so why wait until the handover and fled like the Chinese Mainlanders and Vietnamese refugees? Why not before the Handover?

The result was a sizable HK diaspora immigrating to the West, especially the English speaking countries (which have immigration policies).

The story here takes place in NYC. In fact, all the stories in her Trilogy take place in NYC for its symbolism of the financial centre of the world, the melting pot (ok, the salad bowl), statue of Liberty, blah blah, blah. In real life, Canada was a more preferred destination for HK immigrants, especially Toronto. But this is a movie.

Having said that about NYC, the film also paints a different picture of NYC - the reality versus the idealised image. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or cushy existence behind the Statue of Liberty.

The opening scene starts with the main character working in a sweat shop on CNY (Chinese New Year)'s Eve. The NYC train is much more dirty and unsafe than the metro in HK. And our hero spends the night in jail during CNY.

It's interesting that just when SB was winding down their business, they made more and more serious movies as supposed to escapist movies that it had done for decades. Maybe they wanted to leave a good legacy. Maybe they simply followed the lead of the rest of the industry. This is just 1 of the many examples.

Did I mention there're about 20 flaws/plot-holes in the movies one can easily poke a stick at? I'm willing to overlook them in the bigger scheme of things.

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