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Two unemployed slackers, neither with job prospects nor motivation, hang out in sheltered town in China trying to make sense of their aimless and uncertain futures. As youths, they struggle for individual freedom and the social responsibility that comes along with it. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Unknown Pleasures portrays Bin Bin and Xiao Ji, two young Chinese men living in the city of Datong, several hundred miles west of Beijing. Theirs is a city in transition; crowded streets and apartment blocks back onto building sites, weird landscapes of debris and raw materials. The growing commercialisation of Chinese society is readily apparent; in an early scene the duo attend a lurid road show promotion for alcoholic drinks. The television news that punctuates the film shows the changes and conflicts in China and the effect these are having across the world, from the controversial US spy plane crash to the award of the Olympic games for 2008.
The two young protagonists are outsiders in their changing city. Bin Bin, newly unemployed, lives with his mother. Unwilling then unable to find new employment, he becomes increasingly despondent. His relationship with his girlfriend, Yuan Yuan, is lived out in front of a television screen: they rarely make eye contact. The cultural void in his life feels remarkably Western. Xiao Ji works for his father's garage business. Whilst Bin Bin becomes increasingly downcast, Xiao Ji dreamily pursues Xiao Wu, a dancer with the aforementioned road show, risking the anger of her volatile boyfriend.
The overlapping stories of the two friends develop a common theme of loneliness and yearning on the fringes of a rapidly changing society. The sense of despair and malaise in their lives is powerfully conveyed, but the increasing aimlessness of their activities makes for slow and often difficult viewing. The final third of the film is particularly slow, with many drawn-out scenes. Despite this slackening of the pace, an unexpected twist at the end rams home the film's message that, along with the new freedoms in China, there is disenchantment with the new shape of society.
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