Film Review: Thousand Pieces of Gold

Thousand Pieces of GoldMy friends and family know that I have a thing for indie films that pack an emotional wallop. Well, I came across another gem of a movie on Hulu. It’s called Thousand Pieces of Gold and it’s a low-budget indie film from 1991. In fact, the Internet Movie Database gives it 7.3 stars, which is an excellent crowd-sourced rating.

In China during the 1880’s, farmers and herders are facing poverty due to famine conditions and military conflict, exacerbated by the depredations of soldiers who might as well be bandits. Facing an inhospitable winter and likely starvation, Lalu’s father sells her into marriage. Instead of becoming a bride, though, she’s transported to America against her will and sold as an indentured servant.

Lalu ultimately ends up in an Idaho gold-mining town, the property of a Chinese saloon owner who wants to turn her into an exotic whore for the locals. However, he never counted on Lalu’s strong will, which foils him at every turn as she tries to make her own future in this strange new land.

The story does a great job of capturing the turmoil of frontier life in a gold mining town, the culture clash between the Chinese and American residents and the transition of Lalu (admirably played by Rosalind Chao) into a force to be reckoned with, all leavened with a dose of humor and a smidgin of romance (with her love interest played by the inimitable Chris Cooper). I also appreciated the nuanced characterizations, which allowed all of the characters to have shades of gray and white rather than slipping into easy stereotypes.

Even more interesting, the story is based on real life events and real people, as described in the 1981 book by Ruthanne Lum McCunn, Thousand Pieces of Gold, upon which the movie was based.

Not a perfect movie; the ending comes across as a little abrupt. Still, a very good movie and one well-worth your time. Check it out on Hulu or look for it elsewhere.

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