The World (2004)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Jul 1, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 133 min.  |   Countries - China, France, Japan, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

Jia Zhang Ke's The World continues along the same path as Platform and Unknown Pleasures, but it's livelier. This gorgeous, profoundly melancholy distillation of contemporary China's precarious global position is his most accessible film to date. From the stunning opening tracking shot, in which Tao (Zhao Tao) glides through the backstage of the eponymous amusement park, loudly asking for a Band-Aid, Jia cannily conflates the magical and the prosaic. The World may end with a whimper, but it certainly starts with a bang. That opening immediately establishes a strong sense of community, but by the end of the film, we learn that among the working class in contemporary Beijing, the bonds of friendship and romance are ephemeral by necessity. People arrive because they have to, like the desperate men who follow Taisheng (Chen Taisheng) from the country looking for work, and leave when they can. As Tao makes clear, noting of a passing plane that she's never met anyone who's flown anywhere, even with a chintzy miniature replica of the globe at their disposal, the prospects of ever really going anywhere are slim. Tao and her co-workers take solace in colorful (if monotonous) performances, and in the strange but undeniable beauty of the park itself. Fantasies of flight and adventure are reserved for the animated sequences that Jia uses to highlight the frequent text messages his characters send each other, as though through this fleeting interconnectedness with each other -- and through a technology that binds them to the "real" world they never see -- these people find a space to dream. Jia ends his beautifully shot, heartbreaking film on an odd note, which does nothing to dissipate the film's haunting spell.