A theatrical vision of Vietnam’s boatpeople saga strains to become a movie in Oz low-budgeter “Missing Water.” Helmer Khoa Do made a considerable splash in 2003 with his Ken Loach-like portrayal of Sydney’s Australian-Vietnamese street kids, “Finished People,” but two films later, the potential adroitly displayed then remains unfulfilled. Way out of its depth in the Sydney fest’s competish, the pic will struggle for local release, let alone international berths.
Pic begins with middle-aged Kim (Hien Nguyen) wordlessly preparing for employment as a Sydney sweatshop seamstress. Tortured memories of escaping war-torn Vietnam by boat override thoughts of mind-numbing work, and Kim begins visualizing her younger self (Kathy Nguyen), her sister Hanh (Sheena Pham), her uncle (Hieu Phan) and a young fisherman, Chau (Vico Thai), acting out a perilous sea voyage among sewing machines and clothing racks. Despite some strong moments, thesps are too inexperienced to circumnavigate the script’s inadequacies or the central conceit’s dramatic failure. Helmer’s swaying direction evokes seasickness rather than seafaring. Overactive sound design offers convincing water splashes and occasional gunfire, but even an indoor rainstorm can’t hide the fact this is essentially a dully photographed play.
— Russell Edwards