The People's Republic of China, just ending a war with Vietnam, gave Hui permission to film on Hainan Island. Boat People was the first Hong Kong movie filmed in Communist China. Hui saved a role for Chow Yun-Fat, but because at that time Hong Kong actors working in mainland China were banned in Taiwan, Chow Yun-Fat declined the role for fear of being blacklisted. Six months before filming was to start, after the film crew was already on location in Hainan, a cameraman suggested that Hui give the role to Andy Lau. At that time, Lau was not well-known and his only acting experience were minor roles on television. Hui gave Lau the role and flew him to Hainan before seeing what he looked like.
The scene that he saw was actually staged to deceive the foreign press. In Danang, he witnessed a fire and was beaten by the police for taking photos without permission. He also saw the police beating up a "reactionary". Later he saw a family being forced to leave the city to a New Economic Zone and wondered why they would not want to go there, recalling the happy children that he saw.
In the city, he met Cam Nuong (Ma) and her family. Her mother secretly works as a prostitute to raise her children. She has two younger brothers, the older one, Nhac, is a street-smart boy who is conversant in American slang, while the younger boy, Lang, was fathered by a Korean that her mother serviced. From Cam Nuong, Akutagawa learns the grisly details of life under communism in Danang, including children searching for valuables in freshly-executed corpses in the "chicken farm". One day, Nhac found an unexploded ordnance while scavenging in the garbage and was killed.
At the "chicken farm", Akutagawa met To Minh (Lau), a young man who was just released from the New Economic Zone. After To Minh attempted to rob Akutagawa's camera, he was tried and re-sent to the New Economic Zone. Akutagawa used his connections with an official to follow him there. At the New Economic Zone, he witnessed the inmates being mistreated. He returned to the location where the smiling children were singing for him earlier, and found to his horror them sleeping unclothed in overcrowded barracks.
Meanwhile, To Minh had a plan to escape the country with a friend named Thanh. However, while on duty dismantling landmines one day, Thanh was blown up. To Minh got on the boat to flee the country alone, but he was set up. The Coast Guard was waiting for them and shot indiscriminately into the boat, killing all on board then taking all the valuables.
Cam Nuong's mother was arrested for prostitution and forced to confess publicly. She committed suicide by impaling herself with a hook. Akutagawa decided to sell his camera to help Cam Nuong and her brother leave the country. On the night of the ship's departure, Akutagawa helped them by carrying a container of diesel. However, they were discovered and he was shot at. The diesel container blew up, burning Akutagawa to death. The film ends with Cam Nuong and her brother safely on the boat, looking forward to a new life at a freer place.
|Best Director||Ann Hui|
|Best Screenplay||Dai An-Ping|
|Best New Performer||Season Ma|
|Best Art Direction||Tony Au|
|Best Actor||George Lam||No|
|Best Actress||Cora Miao|
|Best Actress||Season Ma|
|Best New Performer||Andy Lau|
|Best Cinematography||Wong Chung-kei|
|Best Original Score||Law Wing-fai|
The film was also shown in many international film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival. Many international critics found the film powerful, including Serge Daney in Libération, Lawrence O'Toole in Motion Picture Review, and David Denby in New York Magazine. At the New York Film Festival, it elicited unusual attention because of its perceived political content (unlike the usual kung-fu Hong Kong films that Western audiences were accustomed to) and high production value. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine wrote "[l]ike any movie...with a strong point of view, Boat People is propaganda", and that "[t]he passions Boat People elicits testify...to Hui's skills as a popular film maker." Janet Maslin in The New York Times observed that Hui "manipulates her material astutely, and rarely lets it become heavy-handed" and that scenes in the film "feel like shrewdly calculating fiction rather than reportage."
However, many critics at the New York Film Festival criticized the film's political content, such as J. Hoberman, Renee Shafransky, and Andrew Sarris, all writing in The Village Voice. They objected to what they saw as the one-sided portrayal of the Vietnamese government and the lack of historical perspective. Some others found it politically simplistic and sentimental.
At the Cannes Film Festival, some left-wing sympathizers protested against the film's inclusion, and it was dropped from the main competition. This was reportedly done at the behest of the French government, seeking to solidify its relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In Taiwan, the film, along with all of Hui's other work, was banned because it was filmed on Hainan, an island in the People's Republic of China.
From boat person to terror war point man; Viet Dinh, a key backer of tough steps by the Justice Department, leaves a controversial legacy.(USA)
Jun 09, 2003; Byline: Seth Stern Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor WASHINGTON -- As a young boy, Viet Dinh fled war-ravaged Vietnam...