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    Blind Shaft

    That shaft is a bad mother ...

    "Blind Shaft" is a savage satire about Chinese miners at the end of communism when life is cheap, everyone is for sale, and the once-vaunted working class is as corrupt as the government.


    Song and Tang are men ahead of their times, except when it comes to karaoke.

    Original title: 盲井.
    Written and directed by: Li Yang.
    Cast: Li Qiang, Wang Baoqiang, Wang Shuangbao, Ai Jing, Bao Zhenjiang, Wei Sun, Zhao Jun, Yining Wang.
    Cinematography: Liu Yonghong.
    In Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Film Forum 209 West Houston St. (between 6th and 7th Ave.) (212) 727-8100 Feb. 4-14, 2004

    Song protests to his best buddy and their two ladies of the northern Chinese evening that he doesn't know any new songs — only old standards from school days like "Socialism Is Good." So, fine, they sing that. "Socialism is good! Socialism is good!" sings Song, only to be mocked by his female companion.

    "Those are the old lyrics! Don't you know? There are new lyrics," she laughs before launching into a rousing rendition of "Reactionaries are back! Capitalism is in charge now!"

    This is just one of the most obvious stabs at the chaotic new economic order in the biting satire "Blind Shaft." We quickly find out that these two rural miners are not the stalwart working-class heroes of socialist motivational posters but con artists who have figured out how to work the emerging capitalist system to their own evil ends.

    Little of this story is played for laughs, but its dissection of the chaos of Chinese free-enterprise is both grim and darkly funny. They have a well-tuned grasp of profit, wage differentials and even marketing techniques.

    Blind Shaft  
    "Why is it called 'Longevity' Lamb Stew?" asks Tang after hearing a restaurant's floridly phrased specials of the day.

    "To rip you off," answers Song. "Now nothing is genuine but a mother's love for her son."

    But wisecracking is not these two grifters' specialty. They play a dangerous game involving mine collapses and payoffs from the nervous owners to keep quiet about them. Writer-director Li Yang says he was inspired by true stories of mine disasters in which numerous deaths were covered up by unscrupulous owners who paid corrupt officials to turn a blind eye. This must be the capitalism your party cadre warned you about.

    In the city, Tang and Song take an inexperienced teenage boy straight off the farm under their wing and show him the mining business. He needs the money for school, and they have their own motives for helping him. We sense from the start that this soft-looking kid is walking into serious trouble, and one of the masterful things about the film is how, without much being done to draw our attention to it, we feel a rising sense of impending horror with every step this trio takes up the desolate mountains toward the mines.

    "Blind Shaft" puts faith in neither communism nor capitalism — it's a savage swipe at China as the filmmaker finds it. Communist slogans are emptied of meaning and capitalist progress is emptied of hope. The new China is a place where everyone is for sale, and the lives of the once-exalted working class are the cheapest. "China has shortages of everything except people," one of the grifters notes. It's a real-life horror story out of early industrial America or Dickensian England, only worse and in China. It's also one of the best movies of the year.

    FEBRUARY 1, 2004

    Reader comments on Blind Shaft:

  • blind shafted   from Wenming, Nov 24, 2004
  • An Ugly Little Lump of Coal of a Film   from Yongsoo Park, Jan 3, 2009

  • Post a comment on "Blind Shaft"