The urgent new documentary from acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing (West of the Tracks, Three Sisters) takes us into the refugee camps on the Chinese border populated by those fleeing the ongoing civil war in Myanmar.
Violent unrest has displaced thousands of people, many of them members of the Ta'ang ethnic minority, over the Myanmar-China border and into a virtual no man's land. But even there, the conflict is never far off. In 2015, Wang spent time in the refugee camps, sharing in the dangers of their lives and virtually erasing the distance between camera and subject. Unlit and little-edited images stream across the screen, showing us the men, women, elderly folk, and children roaming the undeveloped land. Struggling to preserve what few possessions they still have, they uphold their dignity on the muddy roads and in the filth of the camps. Cannons boom like distant thunder, providing a gloomy soundtrack for their labour in sugarcane fields surrounded by red Chinese flags. Their sleepless nights are illuminated by bonfires raining scintillating sparks, and by the bluish glow of mobile phones as the migrants anxiously seek contact with those they have left behind.
The camera focuses on quotidian moments; Wang eliminates all traces of scripting as he wanders among the Ta'ang, trying to discover and touch their souls as much as to document their history. The result feels more real and raw than most documentaries on exodus and refugees: eerily beautiful and deeply touching.