THE KILLING BEACH, originally released as TURTLE BEACH, tackles the plight of the Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia. Although the issues are sometimes unclear, the energetic story and a sturdy performance from Greta Scacchi give this socially committed film momentum.
Australian journalist Judith Wilks (Greta Scacchi) takes an assignment to cover the arrival of Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia, even though it means missing her two young sons' vacation. In Kuala Lampur, Judith tries to get to Bedong, the island where refugees are kept. She talks to Ralph, an
immigration processor; the Australian High Commissioner's wife Minou (Joan Chen), who is committed to the refugee cause; and Kanan, a local businessman. At first, no one is willing to take her.
Minou eventually escorts Judith to Turtle Beach, where the Vietnamese land. A refugee boat arrives, and as the starving passengers swim to shore, they are bludgeoned and hacked to death by an angry mob of Malays. Judith is shocked, but knows she has a great story. When her husband phones to tell
her their son has chicken pox, she refuses to go home.
Minou reveals she left three children behind in Vietnam--a revelation that obviously makes Judith think about her sons--and is paying a Vietnamese black marketeer to find them. Judith's visa is revoked and she has three days to leave the country. She manages to return to Bedong Island, and
photographs the harrowing, overcrowded conditions.
Minou discovers her children will arrive at Turtle Beach and begs Judith to go with her. When the boat arrives, Minou takes a life raft out to meet it, aware that another Malay mob is massing on the beach. She sees her children, then jumps into the ocean and drowns. Seeing this, the mob calms
down. After rescuing the children, Judith discovers that Minou has performed a sacrifice, killing herself to appease the Malays. Her story filed, she decides to return home and fight for the custody of her kids.
So much happens so quickly in THE KILLING BEACH that the relationship of the boat people to the Malays goes by in a blur. But if Anna Turner's ambitious screenplay seems sketchy, it's because she wants to tackle so many issues--from the international refugee crisis to Malaysian politics to
Judith's battle to have a successful career and a family. The wide focus of the film hurts Chen's Minou the most. She's the humanist mouthpiece for the boat people, and the character with the most heart-wrenching story, but she's also the most frivolous and the most depressed. It's too much
character for anyone to handle. Scacchi's Judith, the solid journalist with a moral barometer, isn't nearly as demanding a role, but seems more believable. As the beleaguered single mother in search of truth, love, and fulfillment, Scacchi brings a quiet, fatigued decency to her battles.
KILLING BEACH director Stephen Wallace isn't afraid to disturb the audience: the film's violence is uncomfortably graphic, and Judith and Minou both have sexually aggressive scenes, and he includes footage of a Hindu festival--complete with skin piercing--for added color. (Graphic violence,sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: THE KILLING BEACH, originally released as TURTLE BEACH, tackles the plight of the Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia. Although the issues are sometimes unclear, the energetic story and a sturdy performance from Greta Scacchi give this socially committed fi… (more)