There are times when I watch a film and see it as perfectly reasonable but then take a step back and consider how someone else might see it; how someone else might see themselves being represented. In these cases the film doesn’t always stand up to the extra scrutiny. Secret Sharer is a perfect example of this type of film.
On the surface Secret Sharer is a perfectly respectable romantic drama on the high seas. Polish (and yet somehow completely British) aspiring seaman Konrad (Jack Laskey) is given a major promotion and tasked with captaining, for a time at least, a Chinese cargo ship. The crew do not trust their new leader and suspect him of being tasked with sinking their home so its owner can claim on insurance. Konrad struggles to gain their respect and get the ship back into some kind of order. The crew is lazy, disobedient and potentially dangerous so Konrad has a lot to contend with.
Adding further complication to his task Konrad discovers a figure in the sea one night and after helping her onto the ship discovers her to be the beautiful, completely naked, and potential murderous Li (Zhu Zhu) on the
run swim from her husband. Fearing for her safety Konrad hides Li away in his cabin and donates a spare shirt (eventually) to spare her modesty. From here Konrad must decide whether to hand Li over to the authorities or hide her, whether to carry out his orders or stand by his crew, and generally work out whether it is right to follow the rules or his heart.
Secret Sharer comes across as a perfectly competent romantic drama about a conflicted man doing his best to assert himself of the leader of a brutish crew while falling for a potentially dangerous stowaway. Despite the cinematic setting of a ship at sea Secret Sharer, directed and written by Peter Fudakowski, has what Mark Kermode might call a televisual feel. This aside there is no great flaw and the film meets the requirements of being a three star film; a mild concern and nothing more. That is until I took a step back and looked again.
As a white male I am not always as sensitive to racial stereotyping or a misogynistic way of filming but even I felt a little uneasy about the way characters other than Konrad were portrayed. The crew was a mix of Asian stereotypes; portrayed as either fat and lazy, food-obsessed, or as violent thugs. As for the only women in the entire film, Li was reduced to an exotic woman to be tamed and spend the majority of the film either naked or wearing nothing more than a man’s white shirt. The BBFC have classed the film at 12A and state that, “there are also images of female nudity, but this is not particularly sexualised” but I would disagree. The camera isn’t afraid to examine her every nook and cranny as the cameraman does all the sexualising so Konrad doesn’t have to.
I will stop lecturing you on the male gaze now but suffice it to say that the character of Li deserved a little more fleshing out and a little less flesh.
Other than that though… it’s OK. I quite enjoyed it before I thought about it too much.
Secret Sharer is on limited release in the UK.