Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. China, 2013. Xstream Pictures, Office Kitano, Shanghai Film Group, Shanxi Film & Television Group, Bandai Visual Company, Bitters End, MK2. Screenplay by Zhangke Jia. Cinematography by Nelson Yu Lik-wai. Produced by Shozo Ichiyama. Music by Giong Lim. Production Design by Weixin Liu. Film Editing by Matthieu Laclau, Xudong Lin. Cannes Film Festival 2013. Independent Spirit Awards 2013. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Jia Zhangke, the man who previously focused on thoughtful, meditative scenes of social realism, has switched gears and created a dramatic tale of violence and vengeance among a random selection of characters. The film is comprised of four stories based on real events taken from unofficial Chinese news sources that serve to illuminate social justice issues, with personalities reacting to their society by taking to disturbing actions. A villager is so worn down with fighting political corruption that he becomes a crazed, vigilante sniper, a young man commits murder for expensive goods, in practice, but in theory just for kicks, a woman gets sick of being treated as a commodity by the men in the spa where she works, and a teenager deals with the general commoditization of human labour in factory life by frequently switching employment but becoming more despondent with each move. Jia directs the violence with a level of banal realism in the first two stories that marks a strong difference from “movie” violence that we are used to, while the third entry moves more towards stylist filmic action (possibly the reason the film has been erroneously promoted as Jia’s foray into martial arts) before the subtler finale. The use of close-ups will make devoted fans of The World and Platform wonder about the shift in technique, but the film is gorgeously photographed and superbly acted, its lack of subtlety in pointing fingers the only chord that might possibly strike a false note with some viewers. The intense grip with which Jia controls each movement of the piece, however, makes for smooth and wholly satisfying viewing, its obvious agenda palatable because of its coming from an artist whose voice is sharp and never erratic.