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24 City [DVD]
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Chengdu, nowadays. The state-owned factory 420 shuts down to give way to a complex of luxury apartments called "24 City". Three generations, eight characters: old workers, factory executives, and yuppies, their stories are the history of China.
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As a great admirer of Bertolt Brecht (`Still Life' was inspired by the `Good Person of Szechwan'), Jia Zhang Ke analyzes brilliantly the impact of socio-economic policies on individual lives. He never forgets the human touch, here in the reactions of three different generations linked to the factory.
This factory was in fact a State secret, a hidden military plant for repairing airplanes. Mao had ordered that all military factories had to be hidden in the mountains in Central China. Their workforce had a privileged status for food, drinks, housing or entertainment. It formed a village of its own, nearly totally cut from the rest of the population of the city. This tightly knit group had its own histories of love, jealousy, family splits and losses, of camaraderie and solidarity.
Jia Zhang Ke used professional actors, like Joan Chen, and amateurs in his movie in order to illustrate forcefully the human impact of the demolition of a landscape. The interviews revive reminiscences of crucial incidents that marked people for the rest of their lives. The demolition means sorrow and nostalgia for the old labour force, but also new opportunities for the new generation.
The movie illustrates the monumental gap between the living conditions of the old generation (absolutely no waste of food, clothes or spare parts) and the new one (buying expensive gadgets in Hong Kong).
Of course, the interview technique has been used in many movies (probably one of the first was `Hitler, never heard of him' by Bertrand Blier), but rarely this technique has created a docu-drama of such gripping intensity as here.
Jia Zhang Ke made a very original and highly emotional and moving masterpiece. A must see for all movie buffs.
It's a story of transition, the movement from Old China to New China. It's disquieting and unsettling. Twee and superficial.
There is some stunning photography, and although some of the dialogues are very powerful, they aren't quite delivered properly sometimes. That may be a lost in translation thing.
But like a country that is rapidly becoming something new as it falls out with Communism, this film forms something new and is itself a product of something Communist and post-Communist: something spontaneous and real, and something contrived to give an impression of greatness.