China Blue

While sweatshop scandals have rocked the increasingly international garment industry for years, Micha Peled's docu "China Blue" makes a stronger case against worker exploitation than any news item could, simply by showing the everyday lives of some Mainland China factory girls.

While sweatshop scandals have rocked the increasingly international garment industry for years, Micha Peled’s docu “China Blue” makes a stronger case against worker exploitation than any news item could, simply by showing the everyday lives of some Mainland China factory girls. That the principal figures are, not at all atypically, just teenagers — hopeful, fun-loving, energetic, naïve –alleviates and underlines the depressing nature of lifestyles that by most Western standards would be considered harsh, even inhumane. Quite engaging in character and narrative terms, feature merits further fest play before broadcast, educational and possible limited theatrical exposure.

The “New Era” of economic progress in China has created a new generation of entrepreneurs like Mr. Lam, a former police chief turned owner of the bluejeans factory in southern burg Shaxi, “China’s Famous Clothing Town.” It’s drawn an estimated 130 million workers from rural areas during its five years of operation. Most workers start as youths like 15-year-old Jasmine, who’s never traveled before and didn’t want to leave home. But she feels duty-bound to take advantage of the opportunity to send wages home, even if she’ll now only be able to visit her family every couple of years or so.

Entering at the bottom of the totem pole as an excess-thread cutter, Jasmine makes about 6¢ an hour, and is charged by the factory for room and board. She also has to work shifts that can stretch to 20 hours.

Weeks pass before she gets a glimpse of the city — months before she gets her first paycheck, between the factory’s cashflow-strapped payroll delays (which at one point prompt a brief workers’ strike) and the custom of withholding initial payout as insurance a worker won’t jump ship.

Mr. Lam’s thinks himself a relaxed manager, proud of his operation and open about letting the filmmakers shoot as they will. But when deadlines approach and employees complain about endless hours or ever-postponed pay, his real attitudes leak out: They’re “uneducated, low-caliber” types sans work ethics, lazy and devious. Of course, after a 20-hour shift with no paycheck in sight, what kind of employee can you expect?

In Lam’s defense, it’s noted that independent worker-rights inspectors consider this factory’s conditions better than many, and that the buyers for Western brands and store chains negotiate manufacturers like Lam down to the half-penny — the real profits are made, and kept, in first-world countries.

Bleakly Dickensian as all this sounds, much of “China Blue” is charming, because its subjects are. Finding amusement in the few spare moments they can, sweet-natured Jasmine and her more citified zipper-installer friend Orchid (who’s found time for a boyfriend) are disarmingly natural on camera. Their welfare becomes of real concern to the viewer as the exhaustion and ill-health wrought by brutal work stints grow apparent.

Pic’s degree of access and intimacy is surprising, even more so when closing intertitles reveal Chinese authorities did try to shut down the filmmakers several times. (In anticipation of a diplomat’s visit to Canada, they also later clamored to get the movie dropped from Toronto program.)

Lensing and tech contribs are just OK, but good enough under what were at least sometimes clandestine circumstances.

China Blue

Production: An ITVS presentation of a Teddy Bear Films Inc. production. Produced by Micha Peled. Directed by Micha Peled.

Crew: Camera (color, DigiBeta), Peled; editor, Manuel "Manoli" Tsingaris; music, Miriam Cutler; sound, Song Chen. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 12, 2005. Running time: 87 MIN. (Cantonese, English, Mandarin, Sichuan dialogue)

More Film

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s announcement comes following Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: Early Reviews

    'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: 'The MCU Feels More Complete'

    “Captain Marvel” is soaring following advanced press screenings on Tuesday. Reactions from early showings have hit Twitter, and audiences are keen on Marvel’s first female-led standalone movie. More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out' Critics are praising Brie Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, the nostalgic ’90s [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Flying to $40 Million-Plus Debut

    Universal and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” will soar to the top of the domestic box office when it debuts this weekend in over 4,000 North American theaters. The studio anticipates an opening around $40 million, which would fall just short of the debut of its predecessors, 2010’s “How to Train [...]

  • Times Up Inclusion Red Carpet Fashion

    Stars Like Lena Waithe, Rachel Brosnahan Support Issues Through Fashion

    On a Sunday morning in November 2017, Oscar-nominated costume designer and stylist Arianne Phillips pulled up to CAA for a meeting to which she’d been invited without receiving any other information. “Reese Witherspoon was there at that meeting, and I know her because we worked together on ‘Walk the Line,’” says Phillips, who’s also worked [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content