Blu-Ray Review: Boat People

People often wonder how authoritarian regimes manage to keep control, but as current events demonstrate it’s possible to brainwash the majority of a population if you control the narrative. The TV channels, the papers, access to the internet and social media. When that’s not possible or enough, there’s fear and intimidation. Portraying a false image to the outside world while waging a domestic war of fear on the populace. One man’s eyes are opened in Boat People.

Shiomi Akutagawa (George Lam) is a Japanese photo journalist who previously covered the communist takeover of Vietnam. A few years later, he’s invited back by the authorities to document how well it’s going. Taken to a New Economic Zone where all the children seem healthy and happy. However, after persuading his guide/handler to let him go out alone into the city streets, he meets a teenage girl (Season Ma) and her family. Reality slowly dawns on him.

Boat People tackles the twin evils of propaganda and state oppression through the eyes of a naïve foreigner. Akutagawa learns a harsh lesson through his interactions with both government figures and the locals he meets along the way. The finale to Ann Hui’s Vietnam trilogy does a great job of conjuring up an atmosphere of dread. Dropping the viewer into a melting pot of paranoia and fear. Boat People tells a powerful and timeless story of unbridled power and corruption.


  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, approved by director Ann Hui, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between Hui and filmmaker Stanley Kwan, who was the movie’s assistant director
  • Keep Rolling, a 2020 documentary about Hui made by Man Lim-chung, Hui’s long time production designer and art director
  • As Time Goes By, a 1997 documentary and self-portrait by Hui, produced by Peggy Chiao
  • Press conference from the 1983 Cannes International Film Festival
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: Essays by film critic Justin Chang and scholar Vinh Nguyen

Boat People is released on Blu-Ray as part of the Criterion Collection on 21 March.

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