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Zeitgeist Video presents
"Give us a day, we'll show you the world."
DVD ReviewA film about the effects of capitalism and globalization doesn't normally sound like an evening's hot entertainment, but Jia Zhangke's The World isn't your normal film. Jia uses one of the more bizarre theme parks as its setting, located just outside Beijing. The park, known simply as World Park, presents visitors with an array of sights from around the world; want to see that famous New York City skyline? It's there, Twin Towers and all, along with 105 other places of note from around the globe, reproduced in small scale. The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and others dot the map, which visitors travel through by monorail, while also viewing stage shows starring park employees. There's something inherently weird about the idea, assuming that people will want to visit a model, even a big one, of a famous place rather than actually go there. Beyond any questions of the park's intent, it serves as a rich metaphor for the forces of commerce and globalization creeping into Chinese life, as we come to see in the lives of the park employees.
Though many people pass through the film's loose narrative, the main focus is on one couple, Tao (Zhao Tao) and Taisheng (Cheng Taisheng), as they make their way through typical days at the park. The venue's day to day function isn't Jia's main interest; he spends much of the film looking at the lives of the employees and their circles of relatives, friends, and acquaintances, including their lives in the park, looking at the ways in which they adapt to new surroundings and jobs. Tao is a dancer, moving about the park from "country" to "country," and Taisheng is a security officer. They both hail from rural China, hoping to make their fortunes in the big city. Neither has gone very far, and the same holds true for most of their coworkers, who seek bigger things but remain trapped in positions that will go nowhere. The only one of Tao's friends to get a promotion only does so by sleeping with the boss, and then admits that she still has no real authority.
The setting of World Park obviously serves as a stand-in for the larger world, one seemingly close at hand, yet still unreachable. And in the midst of this encroaching yet still distant world, those who have left their homes and emigrated to the city find themselves disenchanted and finding they belong nowhere. A more sinister undercurrent is witnessed when several Russians join the Chinese park's staff. Under subtle pressure, they are forced to give up their passports, effectively trapping them. Tao's friendship with Anna (Alla Chtcherbakova), one of the Russians, is an oasis of real feeling amidst the surreal, phony atmosphere of the park. The end lesson, however, for all these transplants to the big city is that the old world is gone forever. We see more than once that old bonds between families slowly disintegrate once divorced from the villages where such bonds mean more and are able to be maintained.
The film also makes heavy use of the most ubiquitous item of the new century: the cell phone. Characters interact as much on their phones as they do face to face, and text messaging plays its own role, functioning as a transitional device into animated sequences that allow the characters freedom they never possess in reality. It's a bold switch from the somewhat drab world the characters inhabit, and it works well. Mention should also be made of the musical score, comprised of thumping electronic music as used in the staged shows put on in the park. The distinct lack of human presence within the electronics indirectly hints at the lack of individuality and personality these people endure. All in all, it isn't a cheery film, and the ending underscores that, at least in my view. It's a bit of an unexpected twist, but perhaps a humane one in some ways.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The box trumpets the transfer as being a pristine new high-def transfer, and it does little to disappoint, though the image retains a certain amount of haziness. The animated sequences are fairly spotless.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby 2.0 mix of the original soundtrack is provided, which is in a mix of Mandarin, Shanxi dialect, and Russian. It sounds good, and the electronic score by Lim Giong thumps solidly through the speakers.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThe World is a fascinating, moving, and engrossing film, taking us to the other side of the world to see how changes wrought by the emerging capitalism in China have affected people there. The disc looks excellent, and contains relatively minimal, but still interesting extras.
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