Complicit (2017)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5

Hemmings House Pictures.   China/USA/Hong Kong, 2017.  Screenplay by .  Produced by Heather White.  Film Editing by Chris Seward.  

Directors Heather White and Lynn Zhang examine the health crisis affecting millions of citizens in China, who work in factories that create most of the world’s electronics but are getting deadly diseases from the chemicals used in production.  Most employers insist on benzene for cleaning the screens of iPhones when they are ready to enter the retail market, a chemical that is unsafe and banned in many other countries and is, according to testimony in this film, only about a dollar cheaper per phone than a safer alternative.  As a result, there are millions of people who have died of leukemia, the majority of them linked to the giant Foxconn corporation that does a great deal of production for Apple.  Footage in this film was obtained secretly and illegally by hidden cameras taken into factories that capture truths that anyone who has ever seen a headline about mass industrialization probably won’t find all that shocking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also incredibly upsetting.  What it amounts to as a film, however, is a lot of good reporting without much narrative shape:  White and Zhang seem to have labour activist Yi Yeting as the film’s protagonist but their editorial decisions don’t position him strongly as such, while a number of other personalities interviewed tell heartbreaking and eye-opening stories but it does not feel like we ever get to know any of them very well.  If the film was blessed with a bigger budget it could have told us more about the larger picture in China as well as providing even more damning criticism of the very matter its title suggests, that people are dying for the pleasure of our addiction to our phones.

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