Judge Jesse Ataide never realized that to travel the world all he needed to do was head to Beijing.
"See the world without ever leaving Beijing!" -World Park slogan
"World Park is a tourist attraction located on the outskirts of Beijing, China. It consists of miniature copies of more than one-hundred structures from fourteen countries and regions. Among others it has replicas of Stone Henge, Eiffel Tower, Manhattan, Tower of London, and the US Capitol."—Wikipedia.org
This is the world of The World—China's lavish theme park that gives Chinese citizens glimpses of the world monuments outside of their country's borders. Throughout the film, tourists are seen posing for photos in front of scaled-down versions of the world's iconic structures, scaled down and strategically placed in meticulous landscaping for their viewing pleasure. But the smiling, passive observers aren't what director Jia Zhangke is interested in studying in The World—to him, "the world" is found instead behind the park's shining facade, in the daily triumphs and tears of those who work at the park, creating an illusion of reality for those who pay to come get a taste of the world beyond China.
Facts of the Case
The World depicts the simultaneous stories of several characters simply dealing with everyday life: the uneasy courtships, relationship struggles, familial discord, unexpected connections, and money problems that have to be hidden behind bright smiles as soon as they step beyond the confines of World Park's dressing rooms.
The World is an important film because it's the first film Jia Zhangke has made that has received commercial distribution in his native country. His previous films, Pickpocket, Platform, and Unknown Pleasures, have received lavish praise from the international film community, but have only been available in China on pirated DVDs. That Jia was able to make this film with government permission marks a turning point in his career, and is perhaps a good indication in the rapidly evolving film industry in the world's largest country.
Reminiscent of Robert Altman's sprawling epics like Nashville and Short Cuts, The World works as a kind of tapestry, weaving together the lives of multiple people trying not only to find their place in World Park, but in the world at large. Jia has made it clear in interviews that he intends World Park to serve as a kind of miniature representation of the world in general, and the visual metaphor works on many levels, often playing out in unexpectedly complex ways. On one hand, it serves as a critique of China's restriction of foreign travel, but at the same time, it depicts the Chinese people's growing interest in engaging in the global community. Situated amid Beijing slums, it's a graphic symbol of the ever-increasing economic divide Capitalist influences are creating in Chinese society. But with The World it's obvious Jia is making not only a political statement, but a very personal one as well—it's an astute illustration of the universality of human experience, and the very unique perceptions each person has of their own situation.
Stylistically, The World demonstrates what caused the Village Voice to declare Jia "the greatest filmmaker under forty." The scale is massive, but the Jia deftly recognizes and consistently realizes the importance of the mundane moments that compose daily life. The long, complex takes are reminiscent of the films of his contemporaries Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-liang. The tour-de-force opening sequence is reason alone to see this film. Jia ingeniously introduces many of his main characters via a roving camera, following one of the main dancers down the long, dank hall of the dressing rooms, bursting into various rooms asking for a band-aid, just minutes before she's needed onstage. It's this magical blend of blatant theatricality with unabashed realism that makes The World so potent, and ultimately, so poignant and revealing.
The picture quality of this release is terrific—the image is crisp and the colors bright and sharp. The audio track is also well balanced, perfectly complimenting the score by Giong Lim, the man also behind the hypnotic music and sounds of Hou's Millennium Mambo and Goodbye South, Goodbye. It should be noted that this score includes a lot of bass—so the better the sound system, the better this film can be appreciated on an aural level. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The special features include a two-minute interview with Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, a strong proponent of obscure foreign films like this. He named The World the best film he saw in 2005, and this brief but enthusiastic clip gives a lot of his reasons why. The other extras are a theatrical trailer and a gallery of on-set photos that depict some scenes alluded to but not included in the final film. Several trailers from other Zeitgeist releases are also included. The most helpful extra turns out to be the linear notes, which are packed full of information, including comments by Jia, a guide to the multiple characters, and a lengthy description of World Park from the Beijing Foreign Affairs Office.
On the linear notes included with this DVD, Jia makes the comment "I think people can only see their own lives, can really only look at things from where they stand. This thing we call 'the world' is really just our own little corner of the world." With The World, he finds the embodiment of this idea by capturing the tiny, seemingly insignificant stories he has made a powerful statement of the world in general.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
• Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum
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