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Dreams of a slacker generation,
This review is from: Unknown Pleasures/Xiao Wu [DVD]  (DVD)
Datong,an industrial city in Shanxi province,the film opens with Bin Bin riding his motorbike into it in the opening shots.The new dawn of globalization shows the opening up of this outpost to Beijing, the new motorway,the internet and karaoke,like splinters of frivolous violence,bringing sensuality into the industrial monochrome.The two main characters,Bin Bin and Xiao Ji, are our slacker representatives,both unemployed,looking for work, women or unknown pleasures.They don't so much talk,as move,listen or react,to those moments which are important to them or hard to forget.
Director Jia Zhang-Ke made this film after making a documentary here,drawn to the idea of a post-planned economy, the feelings of bleakness and abandonment of old,shabby,closed up and broken-down factories,as the perfect symbol of these young people's condition.Both Bin Bin and Xiao are teenagers,drifting dreamers inhabiting public spaces,where lottery is broadcast on speakers,young people lounge about smoking or playing cards,playing pool in pool halls,people watch TV or sing karaoke.The young men having nothing much to do all day,idle around,go around on their motor-bikes,to fill in the boredom of their days.As children of unemployed parents,their prospects are dismal.Disaffected and without ambition.they have time on their hands to hang out,dreaming of girls and escape.
The encroaching globalization comes through the TV,China and the Olympics,an explosion in a textile plant,the collision of US and Chinese planes,the entry of China into the WTO.Xiao Ji chases Quiao Quiao,a dancer-cum-singer-cum-prostitute,despite her boyfriend,a local pimp and gangster and being roughed up by his goons.He says he'll soften her like instant noodles.Bin Bin sits watching TV,holding hands with his scholarly girlfriend,who wishes to work at WTO.His mother nags him to join the army to get him away from her,but he fails the medical and generally gets drunk.This film covers the `1 child' generation,whose lonelness and empty lives are captured by the digital video,to allow constant, fluid camera movement within extended takes.Western values and culture drift in via pop music and pirate DVD.In one scene Xaoi Ji,in a restaurant with Quao Quao,recalls a scene from Pulp Fiction,where a couple hold up a restaurant and the film cuts to them dancing in a disco when he shouts,"Freeze!"
The failure of a planned economy is shown in rubbled wasteland.Hopelessness and isolation are perpetually moving.A song is continually played `Unknown Pleasures':"I follow the wind,I'm carefree and happy".Bin Bin tells his girlfriend there's no future,all that's' open is the present moment,neither past nor future.His girlfriend circles around him on her bike to get him to come with her.Quao Quao quotes to Xiao Ji, Dhuangzi,the philosopher,you should only do what feels good.Jia sends the narrow field of Chinese culture up,by having a punter ask Bin Bin whether he sells Xiao Wu or Platform pirated DVDs,2 of his previous films.Jia works outside the system,covering the capitalist phase of post-communism.The two friends hatch a plan to rob a bank,knowing they'll fail,not having found the unknown pleasures.Bin Bin is forced to sing a song(that song!) by a policeman.Xiao Ji is shown trying to kickstart his motor-bike as he climbs a hill several times.He is last seen riding his motor-bike until it breaks down on the road while it rains.He hails a bus,leaving the bike behind.Jia is not interested in story,but showing what he feels about time and life,things inexpressible in words,moments we can't see.Unknown pleasures remain unknown.