The story follows Little Tiger who is a girl living the hard scrabble life on the streets of Hong Kong. Without family or friends, Little Tiger has to pretend that she’s a boy and work jobs to keep herself afloat. A handsome North American named James Nichol is about to walk into her life and change it forever. This was very similar to elements in Mulan but still brought a lot of variety to the table. I was taken by surprise as the cinematography and art direction are unexpectedly beautiful, but when it moves to Canada, it has the normal ups and downs. There are a couple of secrets, a couple of conspirators, an couple of racist baddies, etc.
The two performances that I enjoyed the most were not by either of the main actors, but by Tony Leung Ka Fai as the bookman with the mysterious scar on his face as well as the venerable Peter O’Toole, who gets to play a drunken, aging old China hand responsible for finding workers for the Nichols. While Iron Road may not be as epic and profound as it could have been, I think the creators did a lot with very little time and succeeded in creating a small, but moving, dramatized excerpt from Canadian history.
This may not be art cinema at it’s very best but it is none the less an educational and entertaining film that is beautifully and artistically moving. The movie demonstrated some potential when the story was set in China and there was the effort involved in rounding up the people willing to immigrant to work on the railroad. It was at this point that the film began to fall apart for me because this is a very serious film but it was coated with absurd third rate pastiche of sex and kung fu. It didn’t really work out for me since In the end, since justifying the whole exercise with its historic reference to the plight of the Chinese who worked on the CPR is a more of a cop-out for bad movie-making than it is a tribute to the victims.
Director David Wu said Iron Road is a “touching story of East meets West,” but also presents a little-known slice of Canadian history. To begin, it’s obviously a cynical ploy to craft a vehicle that can be sold to Asian TV, but all is forgiven but the film is made with care. It is just too bad there a lot of missteps. The $10-million budget makes the film a big one by Canadian standards. True, the story is a bit predictable and there are some unrealistic elements and some inaccuracies but when I considered it as a film for entertainment, I found it to be remarkably good in that aspect.