Film Review: Unknown Pleasures (2002) by Jia Zhangke

by Fred Barrett

Whereas Jia Zhangke has been known as “(maybe) an important filmmaker working on this planet at this time,” his third movie, “Unknown Pleasures”, the ultimate entry in his casual “Hometown Trilogy”, doesn’t fairly attain the heights this reward implies. Even so, the Chinese language writer-director managed to craft a considerate and melancholy reflection on youth, globalization and misplaced futures which lingers lengthy after the credit roll.


The movie takes place within the provincial Chinese language city Datong and follows the lives of three younger adults, aimlessly wandering its rubble-littered and crime-infested streets, working odd jobs, watching TV and attempting to make ends meet. Bin Bin (Zhao Weiwei) is a nineteen-year-old who has just lately been laid off, Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) is his reckless greatest pal and Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao) is a singer and dancer, acting at promotional occasions for a liquor firm and incomes cash on the aspect as a intercourse employee. She can be the item of Xiao Ji’s affection, who is straight away smitten with the attractive girl. Nonetheless, when he makes a go at her, he runs into bother with Qiao Qiao’s boyfriend, Qiao San (Li Zhubin), a neighborhood gangster and likewise her pimp, who assaults and humiliates him. Annoyed by their lot in life and impressed by the Western media they eat, Bin Bin and Xiao Ji ultimately resolve to show to crime themselves.

“Unknown Pleasures”‘s plot is sparse as Jia is much less occupied with conventional narrative and extra occupied with evoking the extraordinary ennui his characters face as they navigate a China in transition. Western manufacturers and popular culture have bled into the on a regular basis of the economic city, as have quite a few nightclubs taking part in loud dance music. This new tradition has turn out to be an escapist outlet for the directionless youth of the Folks’s Republic, as uninterested within the Maoist previous as they’re within the free-market future. The world of politics invades their view typically, comparable to when there are studies of American planes getting into Chinese language airspace. On one other event, Bin Bin, upon listening to an explosion, nonchalantly asks in the event that they’re being bombed by the U.S. Anxieties and obscure hopes encompass them but they continue to be indifferent, unmoved by the specter of bombing campaigns or by the announcement that the 2008 Olympic Video games will probably be held in Beijing, an announcement which attracts cheers from a crowd gathered round a tv set as Bin Bin and Xiao Ji stare blankly on the display screen, misplaced in a sea of smiling faces.

Jia completely captures not solely the apathy but additionally the alienation which speedy globalization introduced with it. Aided by digital video, he achieves an virtually documentary-level realism that grounds the devastation of the characters’ surroundings but additionally elicits the encroaching atomization of the web age, an period which noticed financial individualism rise as China joined the World Commerce Group. Abruptly confronted with this new actuality, Jia’s characters recede into comforting escapism however within the course of, undertake the exact same weary languor as their Western counterparts, who’ve been on a gradual eating regimen of pop media, advertisements and hard-nosed individuality for even longer and haven’t discovered a technique to meaningfully break, free from the cultural dead-end they face.

The DV cinematography, courtesy of frequent Jia collaborator Yu Lik-wai, is an unobtrusive presence all through, calmly capturing the crushing mundanity of life in an more and more westernized China, the place financial insecurity and an absence of prospects entice its younger individuals in a cycle of poverty and isolation with consumerism seemingly the one factor to supply a break from the miserable humdrum of their day-to-day. It’s a malaise that’s captured with uncanny precision not solely by the digicam but additionally by the refined, naturalistic performances. Zhao Tao shines particularly as Qiao Qiao, a younger girl caught in notably tough circumstances however too worn down and powerless to seek out her manner out. Zhao is magnetic within the function and the profound, difficult unhappiness she brings to the character is mesmerizing to observe.

“Unknown Pleasures” is a meandering however transferring story of life on the finish of historical past. The promised future by no means got here and all that’s left is a craving for pleasures which will ceaselessly stay unknown.



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