TIFF Report: China Blue Review

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Ha! This article title amuses me greatly. Back in the UK when I was a student there used to be this program on Channel 5 (a legendarily lowest common denominator type of channel) called 'European Blue Review', one of those very British TV shows where rather than actually just show porn, they show short, skilfully edited parts of porn in the name of, I don't know, informative general programming, which includes a good amount of a male presenter talking in a fairly boring fashion so that no one could ever really have a wank while watching it, and it gets past terrestrial TV guidelines. Obviously I used to watch it with all my student mates and we'd have a right good laugh at it.

China Blue, of course, isn't really that funny, and nor is it meant to be. It is a very small scale documentary, only following the story of one girl in great detail – Jasmine, the 16 year old thread cutter at Lifeng Factory – a Denim factory in Shaxi, China.

I guess pretty much everyone can guess exactly how nice the conditions are. As much as the owner, Mr. Lam makes claims that it's a really awesome place (and if he's letting Micha Peled film, he really must believe it) it's the same damn story that we're all used to. Jasmine gets paid something like half a Yuan an hour (at the time, actually less than the 6 American cents that it currently goes for), or she would if they didn't take her first month's wage as a deposit. She works 16 hour days if they're feeling lenient, having to drink 'Energy Tea' to stay awake (paid for with the money she hasn't even made yet), and that's how it has to be, because western companies won't buy denim unless it costs basically nothing. At on point, a Sikh man from Birmingham argues Mr. Lam into selling his denim shirt/jacket sets at $4 each, a price that even Mr. Lam knows is absurd – but he takes it or else he'll lose his company and everyone will lose their jobs. The final bitterest irony being that these shirts arrive on the shelves of cheap stores on the streets of Birmingham with sale tags already on them.

China Blue doesn't really judge anyone other than the westerners – Mr. Lam is at points sympathetic, at points utterly hateful, it merely watches the situation enfold as the low prices forced upon him cause him to work his staff endlessly without pay until they finally rebel, he freaks out, and they go back to work.

This film probably changed and confused my opinion of the recent furore about the European Union having filled its quota of Chinese textile imports. Who should I have sided with? The Chinese workers, who without their low paying, terrible jobs, would have nothing? The workers of Europe, who without the quotas, would lose their low paying, terrible jobs also producing textiles because China is cheaper? In all honesty, you can't side with either of them. We should probably all side against the shops. Heck, did you know that American Apparel pay its factory workers in LA make $12.50 US an hour on average? That's about $3 more than I currently make an hour! And its workers in Mexico are paid the American minimum wage (around about $6.45) where the workers must feel like they've hit the jackpot, what with that hour being worth a day of work from a worker somewhere else.

As you can see, this film just makes you angry. Angry about everything, but mostly inequality. It probably won't change anything, but it will make you think more deeply about your complicitness in the oppression of low skill workers by, uh, not buying everything from American Apparel. But hey! That's a really expensive store, guy. And they don't do denim.

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JaalaAugust 7, 2006 9:49 AM

Lol wundaful movie! i luvd it!