Prudent editing might sharpen the focus and temper the moralizing in “Mardi Gras: Made in China,” an obviously sincere but didactically repetitive docu about overworked and underpaid workers in Chinese factories who manufacture trinkets for heedless carnival revelers in New Orleans. First-time helmer David Redmon blunts his own provocative points by trafficking in easy ironies and overstating the obvious throughout 78-minute pic that likely would be more effective as hour-long (or shorter) pubcast program.
Docu dwells on stark contrast between rowdy Mardi Gras street scenes in Big Easy and grueling working conditions in Fuzhou, China. Redmon gained remarkably free access to laborers (mostly young femmes) in Fuzhou factory where 12- and 14-hour days are devoted to manufacturing beads and other items bestowed by paraders as favors during N.O. holiday.
Women frequently complain on camera about drudgery of work and harshness of discipline (they pay hefty fines for minor infractions). But factory owner Roger Wong — who apparently fails to realize that he hangs himself with his patronizing words and manner whenever he’s on camera — unctuously insists his workers are happy and fulfilled.
Judging from amount of time he devotes to the phenomenon, Redmon sternly disapproves of quaint N.O. custom: During peak periods of Mardi Gras excess, beads are tossed most often to comely young women who bare their breasts in public places. (Don’t worry, TV execs: Helmer thoughtfully blocks full views of flashing femmes.)
When Redmon shows photos of typical semi-nude tableaux to workers back in China, they giggle in amazement at evidence that American women would “disgrace” themselves in return for cheap beads. Initial reactions are undeniably funny. As he does elsewhere in pic, however, Redmon weakens impact with pointless reiteration.
Likewise, Redmon tries too hard, too many times, while asking Mardi Gras revelers if they’re aware of hardships endured by Chinese workers who make beads. Not surprisingly, most don’t know, and many don’t care. (Of course, since most of the interviewees appear to be inebriated, maybe this shouldn’t be viewed as a scientific sampling.) “Mardi Gras: Made in China” seems designed overall to spark informed debate about exploitative aspects of globalization. Trouble is, when he tries to lay guilt trips on party-hearty carnival crowds, Redmon comes off as less of a social critic than a party-pooper.