Between Burma and China Midi Z's “City of Jade” and Wang Bing's “Ta'ang”

„Ta'ang“ | Director: Wang Bing, © Asian Shadows

Both under the context of the fight between Burmese government army and Kachin independence army, the director Midi Z. returns to his birth place to follow his long-estranged elderly brother into an illegal jade mine in Burma, whereas Wang Bing documents a group of Ta'ang people fleeing war at the China-Burma border.

It was a remarkable experience to watch City of Jade (翡翠之城) by Midi Z. (赵德胤) and Wang Bing's (王兵) Ta'ang  (德昂) and side by side in the Forum. Although they view Burma from different sides of the border, both films take the side of the marginal, suffering, and forgotten individuals and give them a unique voice to express their plight.

City of Jade belongs to a series of Midi Z's follow-up reflection upon his youth as Burmese Chinese after the success of Ice Poison (冰毒). His camera lens remains personal and intimate, while his own voice-over accompanies his fresh-out-of-jail estranged brother riding on a motorcycle. We follow them deep inside jade mines, the access of which became illegal because of the fight between the army of the Burmese state and the Kachin independence army. But the penniless mine workers have no choice but to go in anyways. As the miners dive in water in plain winter, dig in the mountain with there mere hands and endure constant harassment from soldiers on both sides, they find comfort in opium. Midi Z's brother casually remarked, “your drug use scene in Ice Poison does not look real” - City of Jade's authenticity seems to be answering this complaint.

„City of Jade“ „City of Jade“ | Director: Midi Z., © Seashore Image Productions

Meanwhile, Wang Bing looks at Burma from the Chinese side of the border. As a group of ethnically Ta'ang women, children, and the elderly flee the war from Burma into China, Wang records their everyday tasks of looking for shelter, making fire, cooking, chitchatting, and evaluating their proximity to the war by listening to bombing. If Ta'ang is an Exodus, City of Jade is the return. Both are unblinking and honest, from microscopic viewpoint towards macroscopic humanitarian concerns.