The World, 2004

Marking Jia’s first state-approved film, The World immediately bears the visual imprint of its “official”, non-underground status in its highly polished mise-en-scène: the elaborate pageantry of a flamboyant stage spectacle, ornate costuming, original electronica background compositions, and whimsical, interstitial animation sequences. Following the lives of a group of young adults working at an Epcot Center-like international theme park known as World Park (whose slogan proudly boasts of seeing the world without ever leaving Beijing), the film presents the inherent contradiction between China’s state-sponsored campaign towards globalization and the nation’s continued international isolation due to vestigial Cold War politics and continuing pattern of humanitarian abuses stemming from repressive domestic policies. Through recurring imagery of kitschy World Park attractions and counterfeit designer goods, as well as dancer Tao (Zhao Tao) and her security guard boyfriend Taisheng’s (Chen Taisheng) culturally ambivalent and transient existence – as the couple meet in inexpensive hostels or “travel” to a different, exotic international destination each day in their job assignments through simulated long-range modes of transportation (trains, planes, and even magic carpets) – Jia illustrates not only the illusion of economic prosperity through globalization, but also the loss of indigenous identity in an increasingly metropolitan society (where local dialects are abandoned in favor of communicating in the official language and national character is defined by immediately identifiable tourist landmarks). Although less compelling and immediate than Jia’s earlier independent features, particularly Platform and Unknown Pleasures, the film serves as a thoughtful reflection of dislocated humanity’s resigned acceptance of a surrogate, delusive reality in the dispiriting realization of the elusive and untenable.

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