I was looking forward to this film as I know Chengdu quite well and the topic of the rapid changes in China society interests me a great deal. I was less than impressed with the only other film by Zhang Ke Xia I'd seen (The World), which seemed to me to be a clunking metaphor in search of a script, but I thought it still sounded promising. How wrong I was - I find myself mystified by the praise this film has been given.
It starts out so well, with some beautiful and moving interviews with retired workers from the factory, now moving out from Chengdu to an industrial estate to the suburbs (but we suspect of course that this is a fiction, the factory really is no more and the workers are disposable). The insight into what these workers thought of their jobs (they were highly prized) and the genuine pride they felt in their factory is moving and fascinating. But for whatever reason, the film then moves to using painfully obvious actors to read scripted lines. The actors are quite awful, using the pauses for effect and blank stares into the middle distance of amateur dramatic society volunteers. And they quite obviously people who've never been in a foundry in their lives (neither i suspect had the film makers, as the working foundry scenes were patently set up). I can't help see this as an obvious insult to the real workers, who presumably were not considered good looking or articulate enough to be in the film. The scripted stories they tell are so obvious and fake in comparison to the more sober recollections than the real people, its hard not to feel they were written for effect, not to create a real remembrance or to provide some sort of deeper truth (which is usually the excuse of film makers trying to justify short cuts and showy technique). I can only wonder what those people who were interviewed and poured their hearts out would think to see tiny scraps of their personal stories told by some patently bored flown in actors.
The rest of the film is pretty much standard documentary work, with little real feel or imagination in its telling. The photography fails miserably to convey the genuine grandeur of those old industrial buildings and makes no attempt to tell us what the new 24city will look like, apart from a brief moment showing us the model for the new complex. No attempt whatever is made to tell us a bit more about the mechanics of what is actually happening or how the former workers will be treated. The juxtaposition of hardy old industrial workers and the somewhat vapid younger generation is rather obvious and clichéd, it doesn't actually tell the viewer anything new or interesting.
I can't help thinking that this film would never have gotten its release if it had been made by a less exalted film maker. I strongly suspect that for whatever reason (pressure by the government?), the original film was altered significantly, forcing the use of actors and its lack of any concrete reference to the present or future for these people. If this is the case, then it should have been scrapped, not presented as the farrago it is.
Change and a city in China. In Chengdu, factory 420 is being pulled down to make way for multi-story buildings with luxury flats. Scenes of factory operations, of the workforce, and of buildings stripped bare and then razed, are inter-cut with workers who were born in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s telling their stories - about the factory, which manufactured military aircraft, and about their work and their lives. A middle-aged man visits his mentor, now elderly; a woman talks of being a 19-year-old beauty there and ending up alone. The film concludes with two young people talking, each the child of workers, each relaying a story of one visit to a factory. Times change.
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March 16, 2018 at 05:57 AM