China’s Hukou household registry and rigid residency permit system has turned native born Chinese into illegal economic immigrants within their own country. At least they do not necessarily stand out. Such is not the case for Adede, a Nigerian overstaying his work visa to build a family with his pregnant wife. His desperation makes him ripe for exploitation in Quester Hannah’s short film King of Guangzhou, which screens during the 2015 New Voices in Black Cinema at the BAM Rose Cinemas.
Adede was legal for a considerable time, having duly applied for and received visa extensions. Those days are over. The Guangzhou authorities have launched a get-tough campaign on immigration, routinely denying extensions and aggressively deporting undocumented workers. Unfortunately, it is hard to make the do-the-jobs-Chinese-just-won’t-do argument, when there are scores of rural migrant workers eager for work in the big cities.
However, Adede also has very personal reasons for staying on. He has married Meiling and they have a child on the way. Despite his difficult circumstances, he insists they stay in China, because that is “where the future is.” Maddeningly, he will make some terribly rash decisions in hopes of securing new papers.
It is quite impressive Hannah produced King as a student film pursuant to his studies at NYU, Tisch Asia School of the Arts. After all, this is location shoot in Guangzhou, which has to be tricky under the best of circumstances and even more so when the film addresses a somewhat sensitive topic like immigration. Factoring in the dialogue in multiple languages, King just completely puts to shame the twee indie navel gazers that seem to get the lion’s share of buzz at major festivals (but not here).
There is definitely a street level immediacy to King, but its real power is in its depiction of the central relationship. As Adede and Meiling, Uchenna Onyia and Karen Bee Lin Tan, look and feel like a genuine couple. Their chemistry together is initially quite touching and ultimately rather devastating.