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    The World

    Sino the times

    Globalization arrives in China, but halfway decent storytelling doesn't, in Jia Zhangke's "The World."


    America, one character in "The World" says admiringly, is a country that "really knows how to create a show-biz culture."

    Written and directed by: Jia Zhangke.
    Cast: Jiang Zhong-wei, Jing Jue, Wang Yi-qun, Zhao Tao.
    Cinematography: Nelson Lik-wai Yu.
    Edited by: Kong Jinglei.
    In Mandarin with English subtitles.
    NY Film Festival 2004

     Bad Education
     House of Flying Daggers
     Infernal Affairs trilogy
     Look at Me
     Notre Musique
     Or (My Treasure)
    • Sideways
     Triple Agent
     Woman Is the Future of Man
     The World

     Official site
    Philadelphia Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

    • Official festival site

    • Clean
    • Crying Out Love in the Center of the World
    • Evilenko
    • Frozen

    • Machuca
    • Or (My Treasure)
    • Winter Solstice
    • Woman Is the Future of Man
    Maybe that's an ironic dig at our superficiality — it wouldn't be the only moment of ironic commentary to be heard in this Chinese movie, by a longshot — and it's true that we can be a superficial people. But I'm going to stick up for the Americans this time. Americans know how to at least make a movie with characters and a plot. If you want to call that show-biz, so be it.

    Director Jia Zhangke won critical raves in 2003 with his incredibly tedious three-hour movie "Platform," about the young members of an entertainment troupe living through the social changes of the 1970s and '80s, and now he's extended the concept in "The World." This time we observe the young staff members of a Beijing theme park that features replicas of world landmarks from Big Ben to the Taj Mahal. "Give us a day and we'll give you the world," promises the sign at the entrance. "Look — America's Twin Towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, but we've still got 'em!" one park employee boasts to a friend.

    The World  
    Tao is a dancer at the park, dressed as an Indian beauty with a bold green costume and a faux nose ring. She performs for passing tourists in front of the mini-Taj Mahal, or joins the other "world" dancers on stage to do a collective global dance that looks like haughty runway models on crucifixes. She's dating a security guard named Taisheng, but refuses to "prove her love here and now" by having sex with him in the grimy employee dormitory. If she has any dreams that brought her, like the rest of the staff, to Beijing from the provinces, it's not clear what they would be.

    A few things happen over the course of the movie's 138 minutes, but they're often disconnected and barely add up to a story that would hold the attention of a show-biz-conditioned Western audience. The performers put on their daily shows; somebody is caught stealing; friends show up from the countryside; Russian girls arrive to work at the park, if not quit and go into the sex trade; a friend dies in an accident; couples pass the time by bickering; a random tragedy arbitrarily wraps up the movie. But these things happen in isolation — it would dignify the author too much to call this a story.

    The movie "Platform" was even less substantial — its skeletal plot merely an exercise in nostalgia for a Chinese audience. Remember that old song from the Cultural Revolution? Remember your first blue jeans? Japanese T-shirts? Taiwanese pop songs? Disco? Well, "The World" is the same, except what it offers us is nostalgia for the present. Remember the early 2000s when we joined the global village? Remember your first cell phone? Remember text messaging? Remember the one-third-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower with the working elevator? Wow, those were some crazy times.

      The World
    This is at least a less unwatchable movie than its predecessor, with some fairly engaging performances and moments of humor, and you could even squeeze a Big Concept out of it if you try. The concept, again for a Chinese audience more than a Western one, is: Look at us now — the old stolid heartland Chinese of an earlier time now has a cell phone and sometimes meets foreigners. The world is changing, and it's gradually changing us.

    But it hasn't changed Chinese into consistently interesting filmmakers. Put this down to a difference in cultural values or intellectual refinement or the fact that I just don't get it, if you want, but many of the art films that arrive in New York from mainland China, or even Taiwan, seem to have two things in common — the critics adore them and they're deadly boring. (Besides "Platform," I'm thinking of vastly overpraised movies like "Beijing Bicycle," "Springtime in a Small Town," "Millennium Mambo," "The River" and "Yi Yi.") Cameras are turned on and actors perform roles, yes, but their characters are no more than the sum of the motions they go through. Depth of character, suspense and resolution are nothing but a Western affectation.

    "The World" at least marks the arrival of irony on Eastern shores. There are a few subtle cracks about the falsity of Vegas-style fakery in this once-overearnest country. There are a couple of small nods at social realism — like the side character who's not sure if she's still married because her husband moved from Wenzhou to Europe 10 years ago and all but disappeared. But these are disconnected tidbits. There isn't a purposeful story here of the kind that show-biz-conditioned, non-film-snob Westerners would respond to.

    APRIL 21, 2005

    Reader comments on The World:

  • I couldn't agree more with this review   from ida, Apr 27, 2005
  • Re: I couldn't agree more with this review   from Zhale, Jun 12, 2005
  • A Window onto The World   from LNC, Jul 3, 2005
  • Re: A Window onto The World   from Vtaltos, Oct 30, 2005
  • Re: A Window onto The World   from jody, May 20, 2009
  • [no subject]   from oy, Nov 27, 2005
  • your posting sucks   from Aleshka, Mar 25, 2006
  • [no subject]   from ryan, Mar 15, 2007
  • 'the world' criticism addressed   from a student, Apr 19, 2007
  • Re: 'the world' criticism addressed   from Mal Perry, Dec 5, 2007
  • Re: 'the world' criticism addressed   from stel22, Mar 27, 2008
  • Showbiz a yawn   from John Davis, Oct 12, 2007
  • the world   from Christopher, Jan 2, 2008
  • the world   from wren, Sep 1, 2010

  • Post a comment on "The World"