Thursday, January 18, 2007

A bipolar review of GHOSTS

In 2004, 23 Chinese illegal immigrants drowned while picking cockles on the English coast in 2004. It was an uncomfortable moment for the British public. No-one likes to think that the low, low prices in their local supermarket ultimately rely on indentured labour.

But as Nick Broomfield's documentary-style movie unfolded, I cringed. It was so ham-fisted. Subtitles telling us how poorly paid the Chinese workers are; footage of the immigrants being sealed in claustrophobic concealed apartments in trucks for six months from Beijing to London; the directorial choice to focus on a photogenic young Chinese woman as the protagonist; let alone the cute little baby she leaves behind to earn money doing hard labour in England.....the whole thing was incredibly patronising and emotionally manipulative. And this is where we find Nik at the end of the film. Standing on Shaftesbury Avenue and telling me that the movie was patronising liberal wank that made him so angry it actually made him feel less sympathy for the cockle-pickers.

Much to my surprise, while I can see exactly why Nik reacted in the way he did, I had a very strong emotional response to the film. It began when I started to really like the character of the leader of the gang: a harsh but rather funny man who likes to sing and make fun of the thuggish white landlord. The visceral impact of the film intensified during a scene where the Chinese immigrants are subject to racial abuse and thuggery on the beach at Morecambe Bay. It had been a bad day. British TV audiences had seen bullying and ignorant thuggery for real all week and in this film we had an another example of it on the large screen.

But whatever the reason, GHOSTS had a profound impact on me. It made me see the story and the people behind the headlines and it compounded my general disappointment with the ignorant mob culture that infects modern British life.

GHOSTS played London 2006 and is on release in the UK. It will play Sundance 2007.


  1. A movie so bad it actually makes you feel nothing for dead exploited cockle-pickers. Apart from angry that they didn't die sooner, and more gorily.

    Extremely poor, paint by numbers, bleeding-heart, Hamstead residing, Guardian reading liberal nonsense aimed at people who already agreed with the point of the film, and were completely familiar with the story.

    Worse than Babel, by a long shot, and that's saying something.

  2. Hang on a minute. You gave Babel a good review. When I said I detested it, you said it was too well acted and photographed for me to detest it........?!