Film

Too Many White People

Holly: Yes, Sex Slavery is Bad

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Patrick (Ron Livingston) is a down-on-his-luck poker player, bumming around Bangkok because he's got nothing much else to do. When a chance layover in a Cambodian brothel leads him to befriend young Holly (Thuy Nguyen)—a Vietnamese girl sold into prostitution by her parents—he becomes fixated on the idea of rescuing her from a life of sexual servitude. And even if his interest in the girl borders on the prurient, he does a bang-up job resisting her underage charms, devoting himself instead to the idea of buying and freeing her.

While there are some interesting—and chilling—moments in this film, like when Patrick is cornered by a pack of children jostling for the chance to sell him a blowjob, Holly is hamstrung by a simple problem: There are just too many white people in it. From Patrick and his sweaty, transparent attempts to redeem his own crappy life by saving someone else's, to a sleazy German who justifies patronizing the brothels by explaining that cultural norms are different in Cambodia, to a French aid worker whose sole purpose in the film is to shoehorn in some educational statistics about the scope of the child sex trade, white guilt is explored from every tedious angle. We can all agree that that selling kids into sexual slavery is shitty, I'm sure; but instead of making a movie about the sex trade, writer/director Guy Moshe has made a far less interesting film about one American awkwardly confronting his feelings about the sex trade.

It's unfortunate, too—Vietnamese actress Thuy Nguyen is more than up to the challenge of portraying a girl determined to flee her sordid and soul-crushing lot in life, and the scenes documenting her several thwarted escape attempts are understated and moving. She gets regrettably little screen time, though, compared to Patrick and his tedious American angst.

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