It is sometimes said that Joseph Conrad, a native Polish speaker, was the greatest writer in English in history. And it is also sometimes said that “The Secret Sharer” is the greatest novella ever written. So it is perhaps fitting that Tsotsi producer Peter Fudakowski (who is English but whose parents are Polish) would make his debut film based on said short story. Wherever Conrad’s skills rank in the pantheon of great English Writers, Peter Fudakowski has one thing Conrad didn’t: A gorgeous naked Chinese girl.
But first: This movie follows the basic outline of Conrad’s tale, in that we have an unsure, untested captain, a recalcitrant crew, and a stowaway (sorta) who is sought after her decisive actions in a storm lead to the death of an incompetent (and in this case, politically connected) crew member. The action of the plot comes largely from trying to keep the stowaway hidden from the rest of the crew, since being found out spells curtains for the captain.
Added to that is the plot that the Captain (here named “Conrad” or “Kon La De”) has been sent on this mission to scuttle the ship for the insurance while its crew views it as their literal home, which they keep populated with greenery, homey decorations and occasionally women. This gives the crew an extra impetus to work against the captain (though the ultimate resolution of this story line is a bit facile).
The twist, if you haven’t guessed, is that while the Captain is English/Polish (like Fudakowski) everyone else is Chinese. (Note that both stories start outside of Thailand, or Siam at the time.)
Hence, the eponymous secret sharer becomes Li (actress/singer/electrical engineer Zhu Zhu), who’s being sought after by her husband (so he can turn her in!) and the Captain gets a potential love interest to share his room with. It’s an odd angle to take, but not a bad one.
The characters are fun: Not just the captain and Li but all the crew and The Boss have a lot of personality. (I don’t know any of the actors from anything else, with the exception of Jack Laskey, the Captain, who had a small role in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.) There is some good suspense and good humor, so the film is quite watchable. I liked the acting, but The Boy felt that it was a bit off when the leads were speaking English—like somehow the characters weren’t really connecting.
I felt the movie lost a bit of momentum in the third act, when it seemed like there wasn’t really any serious threat of the crew finding out about Li. Not that they might not have discovered her, but given the whole sinking-the-ship subplot, the danger of them finding out was minimal: There was too much of a bond by that point. Nonetheless, it was entertaining with a nice nod to the original at the end (the hat!). We both liked it, I more than the Boy, and we regretted this would probably be the only film of the Polish Film Festival we would have a chance to see. (Although, as it turns out, we did manage to sneak in one more: Camper.)