Dooman River

by James McNally on November 8, 2010

in Film Festivals,Reel Asian

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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