Casting aside the humor and striking visuals that made “Woman on Fire Looks for Water” appealing, rising Malaysian helmer Woo Ming Jin jumps full-on into wearying miserablism with “The Tiger Factory.” A predictable tale of a young woman ground down by poverty and exploitation, the pic never lets up in its drive toward nihilism, culminating in her loss of compassion. Lensed in a coldly observational manner (inspired perhaps by Brillante Mendoza), “Tiger” will remain chained to rarefied fests partial to this particular brand of Southeast Asian low-budget despair.
Nineteen-year-old Ping Ping (Lai Fooi Mun) works multiple jobs so she can pay smugglers to get her to Japan and away from her jobs at a pig farm and diner. For extra cash, she agreed to be impregnated, but goes into early labor and is told by her “aunt” Tien (Pearlly Chua) that the baby died. Increasingly desperate to escape her squalid surroundings, she agrees to try for another baby and endures humiliating sex arranged by her aunt with a couple of foreign workers. One-note perfs merely register dulled resignation or emotional indolence, picked up by the handheld camera’s dogged presence.