Unknown Pleasures Movie Review

"The songs, the songs, the bloody, bloody songs..." So said British screenwriter Dennis Potter in his tough-edged nostalgia series The Singing Detective. And maybe we hold on to them because we identify and attach so many feelings to those dumb pop tunes: our childhood, relationships, break-ups, high school boredom, etc. The poverty stricken, disaffected teenagers of Jia Zhangke's Unknown Pleasures wind up using songs to express desires and dreams so buried they don't even know where it's coming from. But continually, Jia's camera lingers on glazed young faces (set against backdrops of urban decay) as they softly sing to themselves. Music is the thing that brings us all together, and to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, a truck driver can empathize with a Beatles tune as surely as a Harvard scholar. It has the ability to connect with everyone, and perhaps international audiences will connect with the Chinese youth of Unknown Pleasures for the exact same reason.

Unemployed boys go girl crazy in Unknown Pleasures, and one of them, Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) falls hard for a singer (Zhao Tao) and sometime prostitute. She's unique in that she sells herself and her body, while at the same time promoting Mongolian King liquor for her money grubbing boyfriend. That's the almost cutesy story, told in lingering wide shots and photographed for maximum naturalism on digital video. The video actually serves to undercut whatever sentimentality might be there in the awkward gazes between girls and boys... the tone of the picture is hard documentary realism, the length of the takes emphasizes the discomfort of real time.

Set in the grittiest apartment buildings and ashtray colored nightclubs, there's no romanticized Moulin Rouge world here -- boy meets girl, and the clunking semi-industrial world marches on without them. Unfortunately, there's an over-reliance on glib, knee-jerk recitations of pop culture; the type of dialogue that Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino use to fill in their long takes find their Oriental companion here. It's just as unimaginatively plopped into the movie and left to speak for itself. The cinematic image bends to talkiness, and Tarantino might be proud.

Unknown Pleasures's rather slight story is placed against the backdrop of apartment complexes being knocked to the ground, underground clubs popping up everywhere with unchecked crime and a Westernized pop-bubble gum sensibility. The Monkey King-brand beer sells out Oriental history, and the only thing that keeps these kids and the working class adults going is the hope of the 2008 Olympics coming to Beijing. As culture gets flushed down the toilet, the kids keep on singing. The devastating final shot of the young protagonist, back against the wall, softly making his way through his favorite pop tune, has its character heading into an uncertain future -- where the only thing worth hanging on to are the bloody, bloody songs and the feelings they evoke.

Aka Ren xiao yao .

It's all over for the unknown soldier.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Comments

Unknown Pleasures Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2002

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