World, The (2004): Jia Zhang Ke Superp Parable of Modern China

Jia Zhang Ke’s superlative film, The World, provides a thoughtful meditation–a parable–about contemporary Chinese society as it is affected (or rather damaged) by the rapidly growing cultural dislocation.

The premise of the narrative is both simple and intriguing: A young dancer, her security-guard friend and others who work at World Park, a cross-pollination of Las Vegas and Epcot Center, where visitors can interact with famous international monuments and other iconic elements without ever leaving the Bejing suburb.

The film offers a spectacle of lavish shows that are performed amongst replicas of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, St. Mark’s Square, Big Ben, the Pyramids and the Twin Towers.

What could have easily escalated into a kitschy or hybrid of a film is actually a serious, compassionate look at the lives of provincial workers–their realistic daily lives as well as dreams (both hopeful and desperate).

It’s hard to think of another foreign language film that captures so vividly the discontents of Westernization–and American globalization–on present-day lives via the addictions and obsessions of computer-literate, cell- phone youth.

Be warned: the film is long (over two hours) and takes its time with languid rhythms in documenting a rather new and relevant phenomenon.

The sight of the real-life Beijing theme park, where the world’s attractions are scaled down and reproduced–is nothing short of mesmerizing and upsetting.

MPAA Rating: Unrated

Written and directed by Jia Zhang Ke