Director Wei Zhang’s film Factory Boss follows Mr Li, a Chinese sweatshop owner, as he clashes with US corporations and his own workers.
At first, the film’s message seems ambiguous. While it depicts the misery of sweatshop work, the real victims are Chinese bosses.
It opens with US multinational Veal forcing Mr Li to accept a deal to produce “Vivian Dolls” at a rock bottom rate. With other Chinese factories ready to take on the contract, he accepts.
Mr Li is informally dressed and comes across as a good man under impossible pressure. We’re made to identify with him through a few acts of philanthropy he shows towards his workers. Anlian Yao plays the torn, if rather dull, character very well.
One of the workers is in fact Al Jing, an investigative journalist posing as a high level administrator.
Through her eyes, we see the poor treatment of workers on the factory floor. But the smiling workers themselves seem to take pride in their work, which at times is made to appear tolerable.
But after an experienced and loyal worker is diagnosed with leukaemia from long term chemical exposure, the company refuses to cover the medical costs.
The factory is plunged into a second all-out strike. Workers had already walked out at the beginning of the film, but this time they are far more militant.
Managers are attacked. On protesting workers’ signs are slogans such as “End exploitation now” and “Pay us, you capitalist”.
But the strike is undermined after Mr Li intervenes personally. The workers get what they want—but the company is let off the hook.
This underlines the film’s main message—workers are right to be angry but their main enemy should be the US.
Zhang, an entrepreneur himself, said, “If workers are killing themselves, bosses one day will too. They’re facing intense problems and pressures.”
The acting is of a pretty high standard among the cast, but the extras are lacklustre
Overall, Factory Boss is a poorly directed film with a troubling message.
Directed by Wei Zhang
The film premiers in Britain at the Asia House Film Festival on 26 February