Sunday, October 23, 2011

The World

Yesterday I watched an interesting Chinese film for my "Approaches to East Asia" course that I'm taking for my major. The course deals with methods of examining and thinking about East Asia whether your an "outsider" like myself, or a "heritage student", i.e. someone who is Canadian (or American) with an East Asian background. These days in the class we are dealing with the "problem of space" as my professor explains it. Its my perception that the problem of space, in the context of studying East Asia, begs the students to ask questions like "What do we consider to be East Asia?", "What do East Asians consider it to be?", "What is the significance of studying East Asia externally vs internally?", you know... that kind of stuff. So the film I had to watch that deals with some of those issues was The World, a film released in 2004, directed by Jia Zhangke who is quite well-known in the festival community.

  The film follows a number of different characters who work for "The World Park", an amusement park in a suburb of Beijing which contains a number of scaled-down reproductions of famous attractions from around the world such as those seen on the poster there. The two main characters are a couple, a woman named Tao (on the poster) who works as a performer at the park and man named Taisheng who is a security guard at the park. At first they look happy enough, but as the film progresses it seems evident that they are only together because both of them lack the opportunities to do what they truly desire. It seems that Tao desires nothing more than to see the world but lacks a passport (which apparently is difficult to get, I don't really know how Chinese administration works in this regard but I would assume its not easy as this seems to be a major obstacle for the character), while Taisheng is just trying to make his big break and become a successful business man. Unfortunately both of their dreams seem just out of reach. There are a number of subplots dealing with the other characters as well, all which deal with ideas of space in someway. 

Tao and Taisheng chilling in their company dorm.
The most interesting thing is the way the film deals with space and the significance of it, both in the context of the "World Park" that the characters work in and the significance of space and places in their everyday lives. The slogan of the park is "See the world without ever leaving Beijing!" and at certain points in the film  their are title cards which display such things as "the Eiffel tower in a Beijing suburb" and "an Ulan Bator night" in which the main character is looking over a highway overpass wearing one of those fuzzy Russian hats that was given to her a by a Russian worker at the park. (Ulan Bator is in Mongolia and is often spelled Ulaanbaatar). These titles seem to imply questions like "what does it mean if the Eiffel tower is in Beijing?, We associate the Eiffel tower with France so if the Eiffel tower is in Beijing does that mean Beijing is in France? Does that mean France is in China?" or something along those lines. Space is also dealt with in the context of the characters everyday lives both physically and mentally. The characters spend a lot of time together in close proximity making whatever space they are in their own. Sometimes they are apart in different spaces. Taisheng has a low-key affair with another woman and is thus let into her personal "space", he leaves one space for another and later returns to the previous space, does the space change?  Perhaps I'm just confusing you. Although I can't say may interpretation of the film is definitive if you actually watch it you'll likely at least see what I'm getting at. Anyway if you can find it, and want to see something a bit different, check it out!                            

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