An allegorical epic that traces China's snarled transition from Maoism to the economic liberalization of the 1980s, Jia Zhang Ke's Platform is a movie that demands patience -- and rewards it in spades. The movie follows the Fenyang Peasant Culture Group, a provincial performing arts troupe that is forced to change with the onset of privatization. Jia depicts the group's evolution as a tortuous trip to nowhere in particular. Freed from the repressive limits of performing propaganda pieces, the troupe sets off on an aimless path to find an audience and an identity. The group comically reinvents itself as the "All-Star Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band," a cheesy, '80s-style rock group whose concerts are even more pitifully funny than its name. Laconic and distanced, Jia's technique bears a surface resemblance to the movies of Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Jia's still camera, typically capturing his characters in long takes against their bleak environment, suggests not so much a democratic approach to mise-en-scéne as an intractable world aloof to human concerns. Mirroring the country's dissolution following the reforms of the 1980s, the narrative seems to become more diffuse as the movie proceeds: characters disappear from the story without explanation, the plot seems to ebb in importance, and a general feeling of dissipation persists. By the end, the prevailing mood is one of resignation, intimating perhaps the disposition of a country stung by dashed hopes.