According to the International Labour Organisation in 2016 an estimated 40 million people were victims of modern slavery, also known as human trafficking. This vile trade can be found around the world, from large nations like the UK to small countries like Trinidad and Tobago, my home.
The 2017 film Moving Parts tells the fictional tale of a Chinese woman named ZhenZhen (Canadian actress Valerie Tian from Juno) who has been smuggled into Trinidad. It was written and directed by US-born, Trinidad-based Emilie Upzack, her first feature length film. The movie had its local premiere on May 29 and here is my SPOILER FREE review in three slices:
Slice 1 – Solid performances
Upzack gets some solid performances from both the international and local cast. Tian is a standout as the naive, wide-eyed, fish-out-of-water ZhenZhen and makes her character’s journey into this underworld trade difficult to watch. Jay Wong also does a commendable job as ZhenZhen’s brother Wei and his arc is even stronger than hers.
The always dependable Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica, Hemlock Grove) is here as concerned neighbour Evelyn and she is joined by her Salty Dog co-star Nickolai Salcedo as her down-on-his-luck brother James. Salcedo oozes talent on the screen and is definitely a Trinidad and Tobago actor to watch. Stephen Hadeed Jr. (Pendulum) is a fun villain as the nameless smuggler though a bit more could have been done with his character. The cast is rounded off by Jacqueline Chan as the cold, amoral restaurant owner Mrs Lui and Godfrey Wei as the sympathetic Cook.
Slice 2 – Light and shadow
The film has an authenticity to it, both in its presentation of human smuggling and of Trinidad as well. Those familiar with the trade will recognise the tricks, schemes and exploitation of the smugglers. Those familiar with the island will see familiar sites and scenes and hear familiar songs. The instrumental music has a haunting, Asian flair that adds some tension to scenes. The early scenes feature a bright, almost dream-like look which captures the disorientation of ZhenZhen. Later the character is mostly seen in darkness and shadows, a visual metaphor for her journey.
Slice 3 – Less than the sum of its parts
Moving Parts has all the ingredients for a great film but something is lost in the final dish. The first two acts set up the story well but the final act meanders and loses its way. ZhenZhen’s story is troubling and dramatic but it felt like Upzack held back a bit and does not take her to the hellish places she needed to go.
There is also a subplot with Evelyn which had promise but felt unfinished. The film could have used a couple of extra scenes and a reworking of a couple of others to advance it from average to very good. As a cautionary tale highlighting the evils/promoting awareness of human smuggling Moving Parts does its job. But in terms of narrative it could have used some work to satisfyingly bring all the parts together.
Rating: Moving Parts gets 3/5 stars.
For my review of Salty Dog you can click here.