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Unknown Pleasures

Posted by martinteller on May 19, 2013

Well, I’ll be damned.  Even though I’ve been out of work and have no particular routine, I can still be affected by that Sunday ennui where I’m just not in the mood to write about — or even watch — movies.  So this’ll be the only review for today, and it’ll be a quick one.

The story is about two Chinese friends in their early manhood, Bin Bin (Zhao Wei Wei) and Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong).  Both are unemployed and, having few prospects, sit around doing not much of anything.  Bin Bin hangs out with his girlfriend Yuan Yuan (Zhou Qing Feng), a student, but most all they do is sit in a hotel room and watch movies.  His mother pesters him to do something with his life.  Xiao Ji tries out to be an actor (for stage plays promoting a brand of beer) and meets the pop star Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao).  After some initial blunders, they strike up a relationship, but not without interference from Qiao Qiao’s gangsterish lover (Li Zhubin).

Like Tsai’s Rebels of the Neon God — or Jia’s own Platform, which gets referenced in the film — this is a film about disaffected youth in a decaying society.  They are caught in between traditional ways and Western influences (Pulp Fiction gets an extensive homage), lacking in opportunities, bombarded with bad news from the television to the point of numbness, and stuck spinning their wheels — in one instance, literally — with no direction and no hope for the future.  The only time they manage to work up any emotion is when they feel frustration.

Jia uses repetition to good effect here, whether in a single moment (Xiao Ji being slapped over and over again by the gangster’s thugs) or in mirroring a previous scene (the kiss that exchanges cigarette smoke).  However, there is also repetition of themes that can get a little tedious.  Some people are bothered by the slow pacing of the film.  That wasn’t an issue for me, but I did feel Jia made his points a little too often.

Still, it’s an interesting film with a few fantastic scenes.  The bleak ugliness of the environments is escalated by the gritty, unflattering video cinematography.  An unsentimental look at a generation floundering for purpose and options in life.  Rating: Good (79)


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