Ship Wrecked in Bangladesh: Grueling Work, Crushing Poverty in Iron Crows
South Korean Bong-Nam Park's Iron Crows is about life on the ship-breaking yards in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where "half the world's vessels are retired," per one intertitle. The workers otherwise speak for themselves; one claims that, after a life in iron, "If you put magnets to our bodies, they'll stay stuck." Park's process-oriented film documents a haphazard, accident-prone workplace, where we see man subsumed in the elements: avalanches of steel peeling away from dismembered tankers; the mingling of blowtorch sparks and gushing bilge water; and mud, mud everywhere, an ocean of slop around imperiled bare feet. The cast of characters includes adolescents newly arrived from the impoverished countryside and a veteran who has been in the yards for 32 years—pointedly, the age of the first ship we see retired. Park's view—clearly inscribed in his well-structured, practically chapter-headed ("After Hours," "Payday," "Back at the Village") documentary—is that the hideous working conditions and low wages are due to man-made avarice; the workers, though, tend toward a fatalism based in religious predestination. Men are seen sacrificing goats on shipboard to exorcise evil spirits; another worker, with artistic tendencies, opines, "I'm not trying to express our sorrow. Allah sent us to the world for this work"; while still another shows something like class- consciousness after a caught-on-camera near-fatal accident: "Do we really have to live and work like this?" Iron Crows can't answer that, but it does show exactly how they live and work.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.