Friday, December 08, 2006

Mr Lam, the real David Brent

“China Blue”, a superb doco that screened on SBS the other night (5/12) manages to be grotesque-funnier than its fictional mockumentary counterpart, “The Office”.

The fictional David Brent I find too unnuanced to be funny – he is irredeemably vile, the boomer boss from hell, whose inexplicable tenure could only flow from his year of birth and hence entry to the workforce. Mr Lam, in contrast, has the benefit of persons at least as odious appearing alongside him on camera, such as the English jeans buyer who mercilessly haggles Lam down.

Lam’s Brent-isms are choice: a provincial policeman for 17 years before starting-up his Lifeng jeans factory, he self-importantly describes his employees as "uneducated, low calibre".

Apparently, Lam was under the impression that the doco was about him and his management prowess*, rather than the factory workers – who are perilously close to being legally categorisable as “slaves”. Lam’s hubris is delicious – but more importantly, it allowed the filmmakers incredible access to the nightmare underworld of the factory and its dorms.

In a fitting ironical coda to the doco – one I feel should have been run in the end wrap-up/credits, but wasn’t – Lam ended up getting in trouble with furious Chinese government officials a few months ago, for collaborating with foreign media without a permit.

* "China Blue is real, not staged - and took 4 years to film"

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