You don’t imagine that modern China is quite as violent as it is portrayed in Jia Zhangke latest movie, but as it’s based on four different real life incidents, one is forced to take the directors word for it. These incidents include three murders and a suicide and are well known to the people of China. The events happened in four different rural areas of the country, Shanxi, Chongqing, Hubei and Guangdong. Zhangke has been quoted as saying that he wanted to use news and Weibo (China’s equivalent to Twitter) reports to build a comprehensive portrait of life in contemporary China. And although the country appears far more prosperous than it did in the past, many of the inhabitants face personal problems because of the uneven spread of wealth across the country and like most other countries in the world large disparities exist between the rich and poor. He goes on to tell us that individual people can be stripped of their dignity at any time and because of this, violence is increasing and it is clear that this is the only way that the weak and underprivileged can restore their lost dignity.
The film opens with Zhou San (Baoqiang Wang), the subject of the second story, being stopped on deserted highway by three axe wielding young men who try to rob him, Zhou pulls out a firearm from his jacket and shoots and kills all three. This incident is indicative of the violence that is to follow. The first story proper involves Dahai (Jiang Wu) a disillusioned miner who is enraged by widespread corruption in his village and decides, being a good citizen, to dispense justice the only way he knows how. In the second story we again meet the motorcyclist Zhou San who we discover is on his way to celebrate his mothers 70th birthday celebrations along with his two brothers, his estranged wife and their wee son. We discover in no uncertain terms why Zhou carries a gun and how he earns his living!
In the penultimate tale a young receptionist Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao), in love with a married man and wants him to leave his wife, works at a local ‘sex sauna’ and has a unique way of dealing with abusive customers. The final story involves Xiao Hui (Lanshan Luo) a teenage factory worker who goes from one depressing job to the next with increasing demands from his mother to send more and more of his low wages, and when his circumstance deteriorate further he decides to carry out a rather finalistic approach to his problems.
Jia Zhangke wrote and directed a rather daring and brave film that does not really condemn violence but does condemn the fact that neoliberalism has taken over from communism in an expanding China. Shot mainly on location and in the Datong Studio’s in Shanxi, the film was originally due for release in China in November 2013, but although the Film Bureau passed the film it still has not been released officially. The authorities were alleged to be worried that the movie would encourage social unrest. A pirated copy of the film was circulated on the Internet and over 30000 Chinese have already posted comments on the movie!