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.