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Verdict: Drowning of lives - and dreams
Feature Film - UK - 2006 - subtitles - 96 mins
General Release - UK - January 2007
London Film Festival - Odeon West End/Ritzy - 25 + 28 Oct 06
News wires and documentaries pour out alleged human rights aberrations and scandals from China. There are stories about Cancer Villages, devastating levels of pollution in the Yangtze, executed prisoners' organs farmed and sold to the West. There's Yan Lianke's admission that his The Dream of Ding Village - based on a 3-year study of the blood-selling scandal in his native Henan province - was censored.
But what about the UK? Ghosts is award-winning documentarian Nick Broomfieldís second fiction feature. It investigates Friday 5 February 2004, when 23 Chinese cockle-pickers lost their lives in Morecambe Bay, England.
Ghosts is based on the articles of Hsiao-Hung Pai, who lived undercover as a Chinese migrant worker. It centres on Ai Qin (Ai Qin Lin). Poverty compels her to leave Fujian Province - from which 58 Chinese migrants died in a tomato lorry in Dover - in search of financial security for herself and her son Bebe. She pays $25,000 for a gangland-facilitated journey to Thetford, Norfolk, England.
She is met in the UK by gang leader Mr Lin (Zhan Yu). He pushes her from work in a duck-processing factory to picking spring onions - earning half the wage of her UK counterparts Ė with the massage parlour always looming. It is far from what Ai had expected. She has to pay off grotesque debts. Desperation to find better-paid work leads Ai and her migrant counterparts to their subsequent deaths on the Lancashire coast.
As Ai gets in to the van in Fujian at the start of her 6-month journey to the UK, the window refuses to open. Already Aiís future becomes clear: to be separated, dehumanised, ostracised.
Life heads into a cycle of hard drudgery. Ai is a nothing more than a drone. As the title suggests, she becomes a ghost - removed and invisible from the world, pushed to the margins. There are flashing moments of integration. There's an encounter with landlord Rob - who cuts a dashing Thetford stereotype of signet rings and pimped-up car - and the simple pleasure of participating in the English tea ritual.
Nick Broomfield reveals little more than what is already known about the Morecambe cockle-pickers, and follows Paiís reports slavishly. But he does create a template of migrant life which could be transcribed onto many of the 3 million based in the UK. He highlights how many menial jobs in the Britain are underpinned by a modern system of slavery.
The plight of the cockle-pickers in Ghosts, helpless and vulnerable in the Irish Sea, makes a parallel to the life all have become trapped in. They have become drifters - displaced, lost, very small and powerless - in a global economic wave they could never hope to control.
Cast Credits: (include): Ai Qin Lin. Zhan Yu. Zhe Wei.
Company Credits: (include): Director - Nick Broomfield. Writer - Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis.
(c) Rachael Booth 2006
reviewed Wednesday 11 October 06 / National Film Theatre / NFT2
Ghosts - Full Credits - on www.imdb.com
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