Monday, November 11, 2019

The World (2004 film)

Written and directed by Jia Zhangke, The World is the story of a young dancer who works in a theme park in Beijing that showcases landmarks around the world as well as other modern forms of entertainment. The film is an exploration of a theme park where tourists who live in Beijing get a chance to interact with world landmarks without having to leave China as a woman and other employees including her security guard boyfriend cope with trying to maintain that illusion. Starring Zhao Tao and Chen Taisheng. The World is a mesmerizing and evocative film from Jia Zhangke.

Set largely in a theme park in Beijing, the film revolves around two people who work at this theme park that features landmarks from some of the world’s famous cities along with entertainment to represent a part of that landmark. It’s a film that explores two people working at this theme park as they embark on a relationship and later deal with their own aspirations. Jia Zhangke’s screenplay doesn’t feature much plot as it’s more about the lives of dancer Tao (Zhao Tao) and her boyfriend Taisheng (Chen Taisheng) who works in the park as a security guard as they both embark on a relationship that eventually becomes strained and shaky. Notably as Tao deals with her job as well as befriending a Russian immigrant in Anna (Alla Shcherbakova) who would work at the park. Taisheng, who is from the more rural Shanxi area, is trying to get work for relatives while befriending a woman in Qun (Huang Yiqun) who runs a clothing shop.

Zhangke’s direction is straightforward while it does feature a few animated interludes as it relates to the phone messages that Tao and Taisheng would receive towards each other or some idea of fantasy the two have about their relationship. Shot on location in Beijing including the actual Beijing World Park, Zhangke showcases a world where these people have to present something to its own citizens a chance to see the world without having to leave Beijing. While there aren’t a lot of close-ups in the film, Zhangke does use medium shots to play into some of the intimate moments including some exchanges and conversations between characters with much of the camera work being shot on a tripod or on hand-held cameras. Even as he would shoot scenes that would go on for minutes without the need to cut as the camera would linger throughout. It’s a style that is the antithesis of conventional western films as it does allow viewers to be engaged into what is going on though the down side of it is that there isn’t much action and it can meander the pacing the film at times.

Zhangke uses the park as a major character in the film as it play into this world that is unique yet it has this artificiality that serves as a place of fantasy and something these characters yearn to be at which is a sharp contrast to what is going on outside of the park. Notably for what Taisheng has to do as he would learn about activities a few of his relatives would do where one of them would work in construction while another is a security guard at the park but would cause trouble. Zhangke’s usage of the wide shots play into Taisheng’s own alienation from the park and of Beijing as he still harps on his roots in Shanxi whom he has relatives he cares about. The third act does play into this air of change for both Tao and Taisheng as they see people they know changing their own lives including a couple that is often fighting as well as other things as it adds to this growing reality that the theme park couldn’t shield them from. Overall, Zhangke crafts a riveting film about a couple dealing with life working at a theme park in the middle of Beijing.

Cinematographer Yu Lik-Wai does brilliant work with the film’s colorful and vibrant digital cinematography with its emphasis on realism but also to play into some of gorgeous scenery of the scenes at night. Editor Kong Jinglei does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of its approach to cutting and letting shots happen for more than a couple of minutes. Production designer Li-zhong Wu does fantastic work with the apartments/rooms that some of the characters live in including the ones near and in the park. Sound designer Yang Zhang does superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the parks as well as Beijing and other locations in the film. The film’s music by Lim Giong is excellent for its dreamy, ambient-like score with its emphasis on guitars and keyboards as the soundtrack also include some Chinese pop songs and a music piece by Kojun Saito from the film Tokyo Story.

The casting is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Han Sanming as a relative of a friend of Taisheng who appears late in the film, Xiang Wang as a theme parker performer in Youyou who is embarking on an affair with the park’s director, Ji Shuai as a cousin of Taisheng who works as a security guard but is unhappy with the job, Wang Hongwei as a friend of Taisheng who works in construction, Jing Jue as a performer at the park in Wei, Jiang Zhongwei as Wei’s possessive boyfriend Niu, Alla Shcherbakova as the Russian immigrant Anna whom Tao befriends, and Huang Yiqun as Qun who befriends Taisheng as well as providing a romantic interest in him. Finally, there’s the duo of Chen Taisheng and Zhao Tao in incredible performances in their respective roles as Taisheng and Tao. Taisheng brings a low-key yet charismatic performance as a security guard who also tries to help relatives as he also becomes interested in Qun due to his growing frustrations towards Tao. Tao’s performance is full of energy but also with an air of melancholia as someone who feels lost in her job and the world she’s in as she also copes with the changes around her.

The World is a marvelous film from Jia Zhangke. Featuring a great cast, amazing visuals, and a simple yet compelling premise, it’s a film that explore the life of a couple working in a theme park as they deal with the world in and out of the park. Though it’s not an easy film to watch due to its slow pacing and lack of conventional style that non-Western audiences might not be accustomed to. It is still an engrossing film that explore a world where a group of people have to maintain an escapist idea to tourists and the people of Beijing despite this growing realism that is happening in the city itself. In the end, The World is a remarkable film from Jia Zhangke.

Jia Zhangke Films: (Xiao Shan Going Home) – (Xiao Wu) – (Platform (2000 film)) – (In Public (2001 film)) – Unknown Pleasures - (Still Life) – (Dong) – (Useless (2007 film)) – (24 City) – (Cry Me a River (2008 short film)) – (I Wish I Knew) – (A Touch of Sin) – (Mountains May Depart) – (Ash is Purest White)

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

This sounds really good and it's not on Netflix. I'll have to see if I can find it elsewhere.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I doubt it would be on Netflix as I was able to record it last month on TCM. It's a channel worth getting for these obscure foreign films made by great directors. I would maybe check out Criterion Channel if they have it.