Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Roth, Toni Collette, Hugh Bonneville


December 26, 2004

December 26, 2006 marks the second year anniversary of the Asian tsunami which devastated 12 countries. Most severely damaged were the coastal villages of Thailand and Indonesia. Last night, HBO in collaboration with the BBC aired this two part mini series about the disaster entitled Tsunami: the Aftermath.

This being a BBC production, it naturally focused on the British nationals who were affected by the tsunami. 5 different angles about a group of fictional characters whose stories were intertwined with each other. Although fictional they were inspired by accounts and interviews of some survivors of the disaster.

The ones which created significant impact to me personally are the tales of the journalist and the British Consulate official.
Tim Roth plays a journalist for a news agency. He is portrayed as being insensitive, quite a risk taker willing to do anything to get a scoop. His need to expose the story behind the tragedy does make some starkling revelations. He stumbles upon the scenes of some officials of the Thai government selling the lands of the displaced villagers to the big hotel chains for a considerable amount of profit. He witnesses the mass cremation of some bodies by the Buddhist monks even before they were publicly identified by the local officials. He also discovers a 'missing' report filed by a certain scientist who had warned the government about the impending threat of a devastating tsunami which would affect the coast line of Thailand yet the government simply ignored his claims. These are certainly valid news reports which never made headlines. Maybe they did, but I didn't read them. The main networks mainly focused on the number of missing persons, the outpouring of donations from all over the world, the massive destruction of the villages, its displaced inhabitants as well as the frantic evacuation of the Westerners who survived and needed to get out of the area ASAP.

Then you have the constantly harassed highest ranking British Consulate official (the Commonwealth states have Consulates not Embassies. He does have the rank of an Ambassador but they are normally addressed as Consuls) who is tasked to take care of the logistics to assist the uprooted British nationals. Most of them were tourists vacationing in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. As usual in any country, the main complaint would be that they (the Embassy officials) are not quick enough to help its citizens or they are not around when you need them the most. As a daughter of a former diplomat, I know just how difficult it is to get things moving. You need to follow a certain protocol and by the book procedures to get the papers shuffling, so to speak. But, of course the common folks are most likely to blame their respective government for the inefficiency or worse the inaction of their officials - they don't know what it really takes to coordinate such an incident of massive proportions.

"Where have you been?" is the first thing a British tourist uttered to the stunned Consul when he arrived in Phuket to monitor the situation. Little did he know that the said Consul had to travel by land for 12 hours from Bangkok to reach Phuket because the runway at the Phuket airport got damaged in the tsunami. It is a thankless job, really.

Special mention also goes to the couple who are desperately trying to find their missing daughter. Brilliantly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) and Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) - their harrowing tale is so poignantly heart breaking.

My main issue lies with the fact that the film makers didn't focus more on the local aspect of the devastation. I know this is an European production but still ... the Thais were like 'extras' on the set, just fading in the background. They were also put in a bad light, being portrayed as greedy (the government officials) or as looters (the local villagers who were merely shifting through their wrecked homes). The Thai people are a such docile race. Their compassionate nature helped a lot in alleviating the inconvenience for the Western tourists who fled in droves. They must be praised for their tireless effort and their fatalistic attitude to move on with their lives amidst such a horrific tragedy.

Having said that, although this mini series certainly doesn't merit a high rating quality wise, (it has the feel of a Hallmark TV movie of the week), I give kudos to the film makers for their bold attempt to humanize a tragedy.

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