24 City Movie Review
As Factory 420 prepares to close, people recount their experiences. Born in the 1930s, He Xikun is the eldest former employee. Guan is a former security boss remembering the factory's role in the Korean War. Hou recounts her emotional experience in Chengdu. Dali (Lu) walks through the site to start a new job. Gu (Joan Chen) remembers her colleagues' efforts to find her a boyfriend. Zhao (Chen Jianbin) grew up in the factory and is now a TV presenter. And Su (Zhao Tao) is a young woman moving forward.
This is a minutely observed film that feels almost like industrial art, capturing both the humanity as well as the machinery, oil and smoke. It's impossible to tell whether the person talking to the camera is a real person or an actor, as all of them seem authentic. And their stories are packed with terrific details and remarkable settings, as these people talk about the factory's history as a secret supplier of military equipment. The film is cleverly shot and edited, with witty touches and telling emotions. Although it's also rather loose and unfocussed.
Despite being mainly a collection of talking heads, the film has a cheeky tone that makes it watchable. Along the way there's plenty of humour alongside some harrowing stories, such as watching a woman relive the day she lost her young son while en route to her factory job. And with interviewees born between 1937 and 1982, we get a remarkable look at "progress" over a span of time.
As it continues, we also see the machines being removed and the buildings being either revamped or demolished to make way for the vast new 24 City. The reality is that many of these people came to work in the factory to support their families back home in the countryside, but today the situation is reversed: life in the cities is hard. Which isn't a truth limited to China.