Dooman River

Dooman River

Dooman River (Director: Zhang Lu): The tit­u­lar river divides North Korea from China, and the film tells the story of the vil­la­gers who live on the Chinese side of the bor­der. Chinese-born Koreans like 12-year-old Chang Du have an ambi­val­ent rela­tion­ship with the North Korean refugees who sneak across the river to beg for food or to try to eke out an exist­ence without being dis­covered and sent back. Chang Du lives with his grand­father and mute sis­ter, while his mother sends money back from her job in South Korea. His life changes when he meets a boy of his age who has crossed the river in search of food to bring back to his ill sis­ter. The boys bond over a game of soc­cer and Chang Du invites the other boy back to play for their vil­lage team against another vil­lage. The bleak winter set­ting emphas­izes the village’s isol­a­tion from the rest of China and the vil­la­gers’ struggle to get by. Their com­munity exists as a sort of no-mans-land between the two coun­tries, but the pres­ence of armed bor­der guards keeps people on edge.

The plot is thin but had poten­tial. Unfortunately, though, Dooman River never rises above the level of ham-fis­ted polit­ical fable. The cam­er­a­work is mostly static and each scene feels almost exactly the same length, giv­ing the film the strange rhythm of a slide-show. As well, long stretches had very little hap­pen­ing, but the attempt to tell the story entirely through mood is jarred in sev­eral places by melo­dra­mat­ics which left this viewer scratch­ing his head. Strangest of all is the impres­sion the film gives of these issues with the refugees arising just now, when the bor­der has exis­ted for more than fifty years. Villagers act like these refugees have just star­ted appear­ing in their town a few weeks ago, and their expos­i­tion-heavy con­ver­sa­tions seem leaden and arti­fi­cial.

Dooman River is play­ing Wednesday November 10 at 8:30pm at Innis Town Hall as part of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Tickets are $12 and are avail­able online and at the door.



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