Modern slavery

Nick Broomfield's Ghosts is a powerful and realistic look at illegal Chinese immigrants

REVIEW Just when his once-great muckraking documentaries seem to be running on fumes (1998's Kurt and Courtney, 2002's Biggie and Tupac, etc.), Nick Broomfield has reinvented himself as a narrative director — a role he previously tried and bombed at in 1989's pretentious murder mystery Dark Obsession. Made before his terrific 2007 Iraq War docudrama, Battle for Haditha (which briefly played at the Roxie this year), but only released here now, Ghosts (2006) isn't quite that film's equal. But it's still powerful and realistic. It oughtta be, since lead actor Ai Qin Lin reenacts her own real-life ordeal of traveling to England as an illegal Chinese immigrant worker. Lured by promised fat wages and unable to properly support her infant son at home in Fujian Province, she lands in the U.K. after travails that include being sealed in a packing crate. While not forced into the sex trade, she nonetheless becomes part of a modern slavery network said to encompass at least 20 million people worldwide. Her rough odyssey is just one, early titles tells us, among those of three million migrant workers who currently make up the drastically underpaid "bedrock" of Britain's construction, service, and food industries. Despite some awkward moments, this is an entirely absorbing drama that draws on not only Ai Qin Lin's story but also a horrifying, unrelated 2004 incident in which two dozen Chinese workers died in English coastal waters.

GHOSTS opens Fri/21 at the Roxie. See Rep Clock.

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