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"The World" is a theme park on the outskirts of Beijing, sixteen kilometers from the Chinese capital, designed around scaled representations of the world's famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.The site is seen here not from the visitors' point of view but through the eyes of a few of its staff, lonely people, communicating poorly, a bit disillusioned with life, glittering for the tourists but dull and restricted as far as they are concerned. We meet, among others, pretty young dancer Tao and Taisheng, a security guard who is fond of her but not of personal commitment...
For more about The World and the The World Blu-ray release, see The World Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on September 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tao Zhao
Director: Zhang Ke Jia
» See full cast & crew
The World Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 26, 2010
Nominated for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Jia Zhangke's "The World" (2004) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment. The supplemental features on the disc include a lengthy introduction to the film by critic and filmmaker Tony Rayns; making of documentary; and interview with director Jia Zhangke. The disc also arrives with a 40-page illustrated booklet containing essays by Tony Rayns, director Jia Zhangke, and critic Craig Keller. In Mandarin and Russian, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
The main characters in Jia Zhangke's The World are men and women from small provincial towns in China who have relocated to Beijing after the market-oriented reforms from the late 90s. They spend most of their time in the city's large World Park, which boasts an impressive collection of global landmarks. As they quietly observe how Beijing is slowly transforming into a modern metropolis with giant skyscrapers and super-fast highways, these men and women begin to realize how isolated they are from the rest of world. It is a strange feeling –Beijing has opened to the world, and the world has opened to Beijing, but the people who live there are still kept prisoners by a cruel totalitarian regime.
Tao (Tao Zhao, Still Life), a beautiful dancer, is in love with Taisheng (Taisheng Chen, In Love We Trust), a security guard with connections to the local black marketers. They often spend time together but feel that there is something missing in their relationship - for Tao, it is the piece of paper that will make it official; for Taisheng, it is something else, but he does not yet know what.
Tao lives in a large dormitory, together with many of the World Park employees. All of them are young and beautiful women. Some have boyfriends, some don't. When they don't have to work, the women look at fashion magazines and discuss their latest purchases - typically, fake designer dresses and shoes. A few of them also go out with businessmen who pay handsomely for companionship.
Two Russian dancers arrive in the dormitory, and their passports are immediately taken away by their "manager". One of the dancers, Anna (Alla Chtcherbakova), befriends Tao. Even though the two do not speak the same language, Anna reveals to Tao that she is trying to save money to visit her sister who has immigrated to Ulan Bator. She even teaches Tao how to sing a popular Russian song. A few weeks later, Anna becomes a prostitute.
Taisheng is visited by two childhood friends from his hometown. The men have arrived in Beijing because they have been told that there is plenty of work. Both are construction workers with little experience. They are immediately hired, but one of them, "Little Sister", is fatally injured while working overtime. When he dies, his family arrives in Beijing and Taisheng sees that they are compensated properly by the company that employed their son.
Meanwhile, a beautiful fashion designer who runs her own sweatshop, Qun (Huang Yiqun), whom Taisheng has been secretly seeing, finally receives the visa she has been waiting for. Now she can reunite with her husband who has been living as an illegal immigrant in France for years. Before she leaves Beijing, Qun sends Taisheng a short message on his mobile to thank him for his friendship. Tao accidentally sees the message while she and Taisheng are celebrating the wedding of one of her co-workers.
There are a number of interesting similarities between director Zhangke's The World and Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth's Khadak, a fascinating film about a young Mongolian nomad shepherd who becomes a shaman but is forced by the authorities to relocate to a mining town. In both films the main characters are disillusioned people who suddenly realize that they have become foreigners in their native states, both of which are transitioning from communism to…well, something else. Both films also look like documentaries but are not; in The World there are colorful animation inserts while in Khadak there are fascinating episodes with trippy hallucinations.
These two films suggest that progress isn't always beneficial. The World also makes a point that globalization is a sickness, destroying families, effectively enslaving entire generations of people. I won't argue whether or not their observations are justified. But I would say this - the people in them, as well as their dilemmas, are real.
Note: In 2004, The World was nominated for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. A year later, the film won TFCA Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards.
The World Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.34:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jia Zhangke's The World arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment.
The following note appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This Blu-ray has been mastered at 24fps. For this reason, any modern "motion smoothing" technology ("PureMotion" / "MotionFlow" etc.) should be switched OFF so the film can be viewed at 24fps)."
Filmed with Sony HDW-F900 camera, in 25fps, The World has a pure, rich look - clarity is excellent and colors vivid. During the daylight footage, fine object detail is excellent. The nighttime footage, however, is often poorly lit (intentionally), and some scenes tend to look a bit too dark. Still, when blown through a digital projector The World looks notably tight and crisp. I also did not detect any transfer-specific anomalies to report in this review. Indeed, this is a solid presentation of a truly outstanding film. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
The World Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (with portions of Russian). For the record, Eureka Entertainment have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The music is of utmost importance in The World. It may seem like it is pushed back a bit, but it actually sets the mood for the different stories in it - the nostalgia, melancholy and joy felt throughout the film are very effectively enhanced by Giong Lim's lush ambient soundtrack.
The Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has a decent dynamic amplitude. It won't test the muscles of your audio system, but it will certainly enhance your viewing experience in a positive way. Lastly, the dialog is clean, crisp, stable, and very easy to follow. The English translation is also very good.
The World Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: All of the supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc are encoded in 1080p. Therefore, they are perfectly playable on North American PS3s and SAs.
Tony Rayns on The World - a long and very informative introduction to the film. Mr. Rayns also discusses Jia Zhangke's career as a filmmaker. In English, not subtitled. (21 min, 1080p).
Made in China - a 2004 making of documentary, a co-production with the CBA (Audiovisual Center in Brussels), the Cinema & Audiovisual Center of the French Community in Belgium, and the support of The Walloons TV Distributors. This is a fascinating documentary in which director Zhangke discusses the political climate in China, censorship, his past, etc. In Mandarin, with optional English subtitles. (69 min, 1080p).
The World According to Jia Zhangke - in this interview, director Zhangke recalls his childhood years, the films that influenced him the most while growing up, film censorship in China, etc. In Mandarin, with optional English subtitles. (25 min, 1080p).
Booklet - 40-page illustrated booklet containing Tony Rayns' essay "Today, Bejing..."; director Zhangke's essay "The Age of Amateur Cinema Will Return"; and Craig Keller's essay "Hello AuthentiCITY".
The World Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Thought-provoking and visually stunning, Jia Zhangke's The World is a fantastic addition to the Masters of Cinema Series. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the very best contemporary films to be released on Blu-ray in 2010. As expected, the film has also received top-notch treatment. Bravo Eureka Entertainment! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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