Joseph Conrad’s works must be among the toughest of great novels to film: the moral undertow in his prose is far from easy to convey on screen. This is a modern update on a 1909 short story about an inexperienced ship’s captain who harbours a stowaway behind the backs of his rebellious crew. Debut writer-director Peter Fudakowski (already a seasoned producer) makes a smart decision to change the gender of the new arrival, adding a sexual frisson as the mysterious Li (Zhu Zhu) clambers aboard the Shanghai-bound vessel captained by Konrad (Jack Laskey) while his men are enjoying some unauthorised shore leave.
It’s a promising start, but then the story starts to drift between romance, maritime adventure and rite-of-passage tale. The grizzled Chinese crew and their battered cargo ship all look the part, yet the two leads fail to convey the layers of enigmatic possibility and ethical complexity demanded by the material. The music swells and the camera lingers over them, somehow willing tyro Rada grad Laskey and former MTV China presenter Zhu to display a charisma and fascination that’s not theirs to offer. Applaud the ambition, lament the casting.