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"The World" is a theme park on the outskirts of Beijing, sixteen kilometers from the Chinese capital, designed around scaled representations of the world's famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.The site is seen here not from the visitors' point of view but through the eyes of a few of its staff, lonely people, communicating poorly, a bit disillusioned with life, glittering for the tourists but dull and restricted as far as they are concerned. We meet, among others, pretty young dancer Tao and Taisheng, a security guard who is fond of her but not of personal commitment... Written by
Jia Zhangke's The World, his first state supported film, continues his look at the disillusionment of Chinese youth with Western-style globalization but shifts the setting from a rural to an urban environment. Young people work at Beijing's 114-acre "World Park", a sprawling Chinese Disneyland that displays scale models of famous landmarks such as The Eiffel Tower, The Pyramids of Egypt, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Taj Mahal, and The Vatican. For most of the low-paid employees, however, it is the closest they will ever come to seeing the world. Jointly produced by the Shanghai Film Group Corporation and Hong Kong's Xinghui Production Company, The World, unlike his previous independent work (Unknown Pleasures, Platform), has a big budget, glossy special effects, animation sequences, colorfully costumed song and dance routines, and uncharacteristic melodramatic plot contrivances.
The film's main protagonists are young Chinese who have come to the city from rural areas to find work at the theme park and come in contact with migrants, petty criminals, and other lowlife characters who seem to thrive in this consumer-centered environment. The plot consists of the turbulent love affair between a dancer named Tao (Zhao Tao) who performs in lavish shows at the park and a security guard named Taisheng (Chen Taisheng) who has trouble remaining faithful to her. Zhao Tao, who has appeared in other Jia films, is sparkling in her role as the dancer whose horizons become more and more constricted. When she tells him, 'You're my whole life.' he replies, 'You can't count on anyone these days. Don't think so much of me.' As critic David Walsh points out, "all the young people have great trouble expressing their emotions to one another; they prefer cell-phones and text messages. The picture of a terribly repressed and repressive society, with vast problems and contradictions, begins to emerge".
The employees live in overcrowded dorms or sleazy hotels and a group of Russian performers have their passports taken away when they arrive and some are forced to become prostitutes. In a heartbreaking sequence, Tao's brother Erxiao is arrested by the police for petty theft, and his brother, a construction worker known as "little sister", experiences a distressing industrial accident. Jia presents the world in small episodes, similar he says to the "way you use a computer-you click here, you click there, each time leading you to another location." The vignettes, however, did not come together for me as a totally satisfying experience and the animation effects seemed showy. The World has stunning visuals and relevant social commentary and I'm happy to see Jia achieve a wider audience by working through the system, but by the end of The World, I felt that the sharp edge of his previous films had been lost.
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