Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zhao Tao, Chen Taisheng, Jing Jue, Jiang Zhong-wei, Wang Yi-qun, Wang Hong-wei, Liang Jingtong, Xiang Wan, Liu Wan
Written by: Jia Zhang-ke
Directed by: Jia Zhang-ke
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin, Shanxi dialect, Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 139
Date: 09/04/2004

The World (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Alone in the Park

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Easily one of the year's best films, The World is the fourth feature film by one of today's most promising filmmakers, the Chinese-born Jia Zhang-ke. It's only his second to receive United States distribution, though New Yorker Films has recently released a third, Platform, on DVD.

The World is set in Beijing's World Park, a sealed-off place peppered with one-third scale replicas of all the world's coolest sights (the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx, London Bridge, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and even New York's Twin Towers).

An actor/dancer employed there, Tao (Zhao Tao, a regular in Jia's films) truly believes in the Disney-esque power of her place of work. But she begins to experience the strains of life when her boyfriend, a security guard at the park, becomes interested in another woman and a Russian immigrant co-worker is lured away to become a prostitute.

As with Unknown Pleasures (2003), Jia films in digital video, using his trademark sustained takes and immense depth of field for an effective emotional payoff. He even detours into anime from time to time, illustrating the disconnected, digitized world of cell phones. The World captures a remarkable tone; Jia is jaded and cynical, but not necessarily angry. He manages to find a certain beautiful sadness within this bizarre new century.

Zeitgeist Films has released Jia's digital video feature in a stunning new DVD transfer. As with his previous films, Jia provides character profiles and an essay on the film, though the elusive director does not participate in anything like a commentary track or a featurette. Instead we get a few on-set photos of him, and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum adds a two-minute review of the film, his choice for the best of 2005.

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