Acclaimed Chinese writer-director Jia Zhangke (PLATFORM, UNKNOWN PLEASURES) casts a compassionate eye on the daily loves, friendships and desperate dreams of the twenty-somethings from Chinas remote provinces who come to live and work at Beijings World Park. A bizarre cross-cultural pollination of Las Vegas and Epcot Center, World Park features lavish shows presented amid scaled-down replicas of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, St. Marks Square, the Pyramids and even the Twin Towers. From the sensational opening tracking shot of the young performers backstage quest for a Band-Aid to poetic flourishes of animation, clever use of text-messaging and a rapturous electronic score by frequent Hou Hsiao-Hsien musical collaborator Lim Giong (GOODBYE SOUTH GOODBYE, MILLENNIUM MAMBO), Jia pushes past the kitsch potential of this surreal settinga real-life Beijing tourist destination. THE VILLAGE VOICE called Jia Zhangke "the worlds greatest filmmaker under forty," and THE WORLD is his funniest, most inventive and touching work to date.
One of the year's most highly praised pictures, Jia Zhangke's ravishing epic opens in a rush of color and sound. Here's young China in action, optimistic and bursting with life. First there's yelling (for a badly-needed Band-Aid), then music--gurgling synths atop a pan-ethnic beat--as the sequin and feather-bedecked performers of the "Five Continents" company take the stage of the real-life World Park. As the ads say, "See the world without ever leaving Beijing," and 106 of the globes major sites are recreated in miniature, like a third-scale Eiffel Tower and mini-Lower Manhattan--complete with Twin Towers. Doll-faced Tao (Tao Zhao), ever-present cell phone in hand, is at the center of the maelstrom. Her boyfriend, Taisheng (Taisheng Chen), is a security guard with a sideline in fake IDs (and infidelity). When some Russian guest workers join the troupe, Tao's increasingly insular world briefly expands. She and Anna (Alla Shcherbakova) don't speak the same language, but do what they can to communicate. Tao envies her new friends "freedom"--she's never been beyond China's borders--unaware that Anna's nomadic existence is by necessity rather than choice. When she finds that Anna has become an escort, Tao's world snaps back to its previous dimensions, ultimately shrinking down to nothing. The World is unambiguously ambitious, with elaborate dance sequences, animated text messages, and tragic subplots. Unlike 2000's Platform, Zhangke's fourth feature isn't set in the past or the provinces, but he surpasses that success with his finest--and most cynical--film to date. --Kathleen C. Fennessy