Unknown Pleasures

Jia Zhang-Ke's third feature is a sequel of sorts to his epic PLATFORM (2000), which followed a group of provincial Chinese actors through the uncertainty of the post-Mao decade. The year is now 2001, and the future looks brighter: China is about to enter the WTO, Beijing is seriously being considered as the site of the 2008 Summer Oympics, and a new superhighway...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Jia Zhang-Ke's third feature is a sequel of sorts to his epic PLATFORM (2000), which followed a group of provincial Chinese actors through the uncertainty of the post-Mao decade. The year is now 2001, and the future looks brighter: China is about to enter the WTO, Beijing is seriously being considered as the site of the 2008 Summer Oympics, and a new superhighway is about join the northern industrial city of Datong with Beijing. But even with so many reasons to be cheerful, Jia finds the next generation of Chinese youth even less hopeful about their future. Ignoring the radio spots urging citizens to play the lottery and "make their leisure time pay," 21-year-old Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) and his equally unemployed 19-year-old friend Bin Bin (Zhao Wei Wei) take their chances at the Mongolian King Liquor Troupe auditions, where aspiring performers hope to flog booze by dancing to pop music. (The company's motto: "Art sets the stage. Let commerce perform on it.") From the moment Xiao Ji spots local pop demi-star Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao), who's just won a slot on the program, he's love. But Qiao Qiao is already spoken for: Her boyfriend is a nasty gangster who keeps a tight watch on his leading lady. Bin Bin already has a girlfriend, Yuan Yuan (Zhou Qing Feng), but their future together is uncertain. While Bin Bin and Xiao Ji aimlessly ride around Datong's crowded streets and barren, industrial outskirts on Xiao Ji's motorbike, Yuan Yuan studies for her exams; excited by China's entry into the WTO, she hopes to one day study international trade in Beijing. Badgered by his mother (Bai Ru), a factory worker who hasn't been paid in eight months, Bin Bin considers joining the Army, until a preliminary blood test reveals that he has hepatitis. Desperate for money and something to do, Bin Bin and Xiao Ji concoct a crazy plan involving a fake bomb and the China Construction Bank. There's a telling disjunction between the dismal lives of Jia's characters and the optimism of China's officially sunny advance into the 21st century, and their helplessness often becomes a pathetic pantomime. In one key scene, Qiao Qiao attempts to stand up and leave her gangster boyfriend, but is repeatedly knocked back into her seat. In another, Xiao Ji's motorbike gets stuck in the mud; later, it breaks down altogether. Even with the newly opened superhighway linking them to Beijing and, hopefully, the world at large, it seems no one in Datong is really going anywhere.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Jia Zhang-Ke's third feature is a sequel of sorts to his epic PLATFORM (2000), which followed a group of provincial Chinese actors through the uncertainty of the post-Mao decade. The year is now 2001, and the future looks brighter: China is about to enter… (more)

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