Sex, Lies, and False Family Ties
Blind Shaft is a coming-of-age story set in the most deplorable landscape imaginable. Fengming is an adolescent on the verge of discovering the real world when he decides to leave his sweet country life in favor of making money in the city. Within three days of arrival, Fengming becomes the next target of Jinming and Zhaoyang, two cold-blooded murderers who befriend and kill unemployed travelers for personal profit. Fengming must now navigate the pressures of growing up, choosing friends, adjusting to a new environment, and getting a job while being unknowingly caught up in a murder plot. All in all, Fengming's impending doom is far overshadowed by his battle to survive the temptations his two "uncles" continually place before him.
From the moment Fengming is introduced at the town square, his royal blue track jacket sticks out from the drab cityscape. The color contrast intends to show that Fengming is innocent, untouched by the gray corruption that seems to be inescapable in this town. As the movie progresses, the decay of urban life clings to Fengming in its ugliest forms: laziness, prostitution, pornography, and murder. All four qualities result from Fengming's interactions with his "guardians" Jinming and Zhaoyang, who are merely using him as a corruptible form of entertainment. Once Fengming leaves his first day at the mines, his bright blue ��innocent�� track jacket is now covered in the soot and smut that encrusts every aspect of city life, signifying that the boy is now just as corrupt as his new surroundings and his perennially dirty "uncles."
Fengming's "guardians" are always unclean, always unhappy, and have few reservations about killing strangers and sleeping with prostitutes. Fengming's wide-eyed curiosity for the big city contrasts Jinming and Zhaoyang's gloomy personalities so sharply that they feel forced to change his cheery disposition. At first, the pair hopes Fengming will wake up to his surroundings when his new life at the mines, with cramped rooms and community showers, finally sets in. As time progresses and Fengming stays true to his values, Jinming and Zhaoyang attempt to damper his mood by running him through the moral gauntlet for their own enjoyment. For example, Jinming and Zhaoyang blatantly lie to Fengming about the prostitute masseuse not because they have something to gain from the situation but because they know Fengming has something to lose. Near the end of the film, Jinming has a change of heart and notices how comparable Fengming and his own son are, but this sudden realization doesn't prompt any behavioral changes in Jinming, it only makes him realize what a horrible and unchangeable father figure he is.
Blind Shaft is basically a story about the clinging corruption in certain cities. Fengming's "uncles" take it upon themselves to ruin the young boy's life so he can get a taste of their interpretation of industrial living. The movie does not intend to show that all aspects of city life are miserable, but rather the difficulty in rising above the industry of sin and avoiding it altogether. Fengming was a pure beacon of hope when he first stepped off the bus, but in three days time he was socializing with murderers and staring at pornography. Morals and values change in the city and peer influence must take the blame. In the city, everyone has a negative effect on everyone else, which keeps the entire population in a downward spiral further and further away from the coveted happy ending.
Ayn Rand Invades China
Director Yang Li does not agree with this philosophy. He deliberately positions Tang and Song as anti-heroes; they are clearly the centre of the film, but they are despicable men. The core of the narrative is that these two men murder some ignorant sap, con a mine boss, send some money to their families, and then hire prostitutes, then repeat the cycle. What makes this worse is that these two figures are not unique; as we see in the scene where they find Feng Ming, there are other "social cannibals" doing the same thing - in this case it's the man who gives Tang the cigarette light.
Yang Li sets up the film in such a way that we automatically question the morality of capitalism. The mass of people are on the sidewalk waiting for job offers; Feng Ming, the 16 year old kid who is searching for work to help pay for his sister's education, the first mine boss who seals the exits to avoid government inspection of his crooked mine operation - these cues all push us towards a conclusion that this new market economy isn't all it's cracked up to be. There is an intangible quality to many of these scenes, a sense of desperation, a particularly desperation to have, that is base, and repulses us and our sense of greater good.
The implication of Yang Li's work is that in socialism, Tang and Song, and the Yuan family, for that matter, had a level of security that has been erased by the replacement of socialism with market-liberalism. Capitalism is slowly swallowing all the innocence of China's rural sector, first with the total corruption of Tang and Song, and the hordes of country folk rushing to the city to find jobs, and finally with Feng Ming. Feng Ming starts out as a pillar of ignorance and innocence, and thereby morality, but when he comes to the city for work, his moral slate becomes stained. First, there are the pin-ups on the mine shack wall, which tempt him at night. This, combined with Song's kind-of-humanity leads to his ��incident�� at the brothel, which mars his honesty further. Finally, we have the closing scenes where he tries to refuse the money offered to him by the mine boss for Song's death, but he eventually concedes and takes it. As he stands outside the crematorium, there is a dejected look on his face, like he knows he has done something wrong, but couldn't help it. Yang Li is insinuating that eventually the Rand-ian ethos and capitalist society will consume all that remains of Chinese traditional morality and innocence, replacing it with lust for money. Though based on a simple plot, Blind Shaft offers a brutal social commentary, and a biting criticism of egoist philosophy and capitalist society.
The lack of dialogue between the characters, and the simple exchanges of words when there are dialogues, create an identifiable feeling to "Blind Shaft." A realistically yet simple plot obtains its complications from the conversations between Tang Zhao yang and Song Jinming, which create the eventual guilty conscientious of the part of Song. The director Yang Li uses dialogue to make the plot more complex and more interesting, and it is in the brief and laconic exchanges of words that the viewer comes to discern the gradual change of Song from a relentless murderer to a caring "uncle."
The first five minutes of the movie is spent following a group of miners as they go into and out of the mine. There are no words spoken, only the background noise and a soft song. This creates a mysterious, yet successful tone to the movie. The viewer is not sure if this movie will follow the story of a miner, or if they will be completely surprised by what the plot really entails. When Li does finally introduce dialogue, it is between Song and the man he is about to kill. Not only does this dialogue capture the mood but it also sets the tone of the movie. This short dialogue shows the desperation of this man, he will do anything for money. Li not only portrays these men as greedy but their discourse creates a stealthy brotherhood within the two characters that foreshadows that their eventual master plan will bring them to no good. The lack of dialogue at the beginning and then the emphasis on the simple dialogue in the mine successfully introduces what the rest of the movie will be like.
The dialogue that Tang has with other people shows his own selfish desires.
Li, through his director's abilities, created scenes that emphasized how
he views himself. To Tang, he is the ultimate character in their lives,
do what is best for himself or he will, "eliminate anyone in the
path" of his fortune. Li structures Tang's discourse in such a way
that it creates his omnipresence in Song's life. Not only does this aid
to the story and eventual maturation of Song, but it also helps show who
Tang really is. His dialogue is forceful and self-centered. There is nothing
forgiving or selfless in Tang's character and Li successfully shows this
in his dialogue.
Li created a successful and identifiable movie in "Blind Shaft" through his use of dialogue. The relationships created through this dialogue help show how the characters change in this movie. The simple discourse also allows the viewer to grasp and obtain more information from the characters. Not only is "Blind Shaft" an interesting movie, but it also allows for the viewer to identify with it.
The Inhumanity of Economic Reform
Blind Shaft is a film that tells a story revolving around three people. Tang and Song are two men from rural China who make their living and support their families by murdering unsuspecting coal miners. They pretend to be the relatives of the victim in order to collect compensation money from the owners of the coal mines. Yuan, a 16 year-old boy who is forced to drop out of school to earn money to support his family, becomes Tang and Song's new target. However, the relationship among these three people becomes complicated as the whole plan unfolds. The film ends very ironically and tragically. Tang and Song, the original criminals who kill people for money in the coal mine, die at their "money making place." Yuan, the original "victim," becomes the beneficiary of this "accident," and takes the compensation money home. The film director uses the film as a scathing social criticism of the exploitation and oppression that are created by China's ongoing economic reform. The film shows the audience ruthless social and economic problems that exist under this economic reform. Furthermore, it criticizes the ugliness and degradation of humanity in China's economy, where everything is measured and mediated by money.
The film starts inside a dark coal mine. This scene serves as a symbol of the ominous effect of China's economic reform. In the mine, everything is dark except for the little lights on coal miners�� helmets. The film director uses this scene to show the audience the horrible working conditions for rural people. However, because of the poverty created by China's unbalanced economic reform between urban and rural areas, rural children cannot afford to go to school. Therefore, their fathers have to support them by taking low-pay and dangerous jobs, such as coal mining. The criminals in the film, Tang and Song, are also fathers. The reason for the degradation of their humanity (killing people for money rather than taking a regular job) is to earn money in the fastest way to support the schooling of their children. In a way, both Song and Tang are the victims of the China's economic reform.
The scene in the film where the owner of the coal mine tells Yuan, "China is short of everything but people," directly reflects the social problems during China's economic reform, where human life is worthless and what really matters is money. Under China's economic reform, capitalism becomes dominant, so that everything is measured and mediated by money, including human life. This is the incentive for Tang and Song to start a business by killing their co-workers: because of the capital put on human labor and human life, they see a person as equal to 30,000 RMB.
In the film, after Yuan receives his wage for the first time and goes to the post office to send it back home, he meets the prostitute who he has slept with. She asks Yuan, "You are here to send money to your family as well?" In the film, not only do the miners send money to their families, but also the prostitutes. Both the miners and prostitutes come from rural China to earn money to support their families. This is a scathing indictment of the current economic reform in which urban development is achieved at the expense of the peasant population who have to sell themselves as cheap labor or prostitutes, even if they do not want to. The film shows the suffering of the rural people in Chinese society undergoing an economic reform and how people are driven by money and capitalism. The director does a very good job at making the viewer think critically about changes, and how far China can go in its quest for wealth and power without losing its humanity.
Money, the Root of All Evil
Blind Shaft is a film about the greed for money. Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang, two cold-blooded men who leave their families behind and work as coal miners, murdering people in the shaft and using it as a way to raise money. It's a common phenomenon in China today, which is struggling to balance two political systems: socialism and capitalism. In order to get money, more and more people use different kinds of illegal ways to gain money regardless of the moral codes or the laws. This movie shows the darkness and ugliness of human's insides in the process of chasing money, making the viewer aware that money is the root of all evil. Money makes people blind to the significance of life.
The story begins in the darkness. Three miners are taking a break in the shaft, telling jokes and laughing. All of a sudden, one of them, Mr. Yuan, is brutally killed by Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang. I was shocked by that horrific act of murder. It was too dark to see faces of the miners clearly; the violence only happens in silence. There are no expressions shown on the two murderers�� faces while killing Mr. Yuan. It reflects the inside of the two killers, like the shaft, dark and evil. I also realize how fragile people's lives are, which can be taken in an instance only because of someone's greed for money. Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang use Mr. Yuan's death to get thirty thousand yuan from the owner of the mine, which is the "value" of Mr. Yuan's life. The two murderers look calm and feel like nothing has happened in the whole process. The money just kills their feelings of love and compassion. Ironically, they spend that amount of money foolishly, going to the brothel to have fun and drinking beers. It is cruel of them to use a human life to have temporary fun. It is money that drives them crazy and cold-blooded!
However, we can't deny that there are still some good characteristics inside of Song Jinming's heart, but kindness becomes weak while facing money. When Tang Zhaoyang found their new target, a sixteen-year-old Yuan Fengming, who is dramatically Mr. Yuan's son and wants to earn some money for his tuition for school, Jinming doesn't want to kill Fengming because he is like his own son. Whenever Zhaoyang asks Jinming when they can kill Fengming, Jinming always says "wait longer," trying to find any excuse to postpone their plans. These plots show that Jinming is originally kind; he cares about his family, and loves his son deeply. Fengming reminds him of his own child. But all the kindness doesn't stop him from the greed for money. He doesn't give up that "job" and continues to follow the plans with Zhaoyang. Although Jinming dies in order to save Fengming's life in the end, it's too late. Fengming takes the money given by the shaft owner without telling the truth, although he knows that money doesn't belong to him. After experiencing all the lies, can Fengming still be innocent in that society? Money can corrupt people's moral sense, making them blind to what is right.
Li Yang, the director of Blind Shaft, tells the serious problems existing in current China, which is moving from socialism to capitalism of economics. The rise of capitalism brings with the notion of making money at all costs. The viewer should think more about their morals while chasing money. Therefore, people should never become the slaves of money.
Divine Retribution in Blind Shaft
In the movie Blind Shaft the audience at first witness a scene of murder. This scene draws us into the movie, making us pay attention. It comes out that the two main characters, Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang, are friends who go around the country of China convincing people down on their luck to act as their relations in order to get jobs, they then kill them in mining accidents and ask for compensation.
After this first scene we see them choose their next target. A young boy, 16, named Feng Ming. He represents innocence in this movie. He is out looking for work to pay for his and his sisters schooling. He has never had relations with women. And he is hoping to find his father who went out looking for work two years previously.
As things progress, Tang becomes the heartless one. Ruthless for his money, an icon of modern capitalism, he is willing to do anything to be rich. He is smart and efficient. Next to Tang we have his friend and counterpart Song. Song begins to show remorse to the boy as the movie continues, becoming in fact a sort of uncle figure to the boy. He tries, in good intentions, to initiate Feng Ming into the adulthood by paying for him to visit a brothel. In Song's mind allowing him to die otherwise would be a great wrong as would be killing him if the boy was the son of the last man they killed as he suspects. This belief system of Song's already suggests the idea of a karmic retribution as a theme for the story.
He first tries to corrupt the boy's innocence with sex. He takes the
boy to a whorehouse, and pays to have his virginity taken from him. This
is to no avail. Next he tries to get the boy drunk, an attempt that is
also foiled this time by an outside person.
The idea of karma also causes one to wonder if Feng Ming is still pure at the end of the movie. He does accept the money for their deaths, even though he is not Song's nephew. However in the scene the same girl encouraging him to accept this money was the same one that has told him previously not to drink. At the end Feng Ming is seen paying for the cremation of his two assailants. If Feng Ming was no longer as innocent as he began, this scene of him paying for the disposal of the bodies of two people who tried to kill him, he knows by now Tang at least tried something, shows that he is not corrupted, just more experienced. And now only is he paying for the cremation, he bought them nice boxes for their ashes. This shows, if anything, that the movie has themes of karma and divine retribution, and that while innocence cannot survive in the modern world, it does not necessarily make one an evil person.
I Once Was Blind, But Now I See: Redemption in Blind Shaft
|Blind Shaft is a film about hedonism, shame, and redemption. Tang and
Song are two men who go to the marketplace looking for employment. Once
they find jobs, they pick out a co-worker and murder him, later collecting
the compensation money from their boss. They move from place to place, killing
for money and frequenting every whorehouse along the way. Tang and Song
abandon the ever important Chinese tradition of loyalty - loyalty to co-workers,
loyalty to family, and loyalty to friends. After a life of immorality and
hedonism, Song begins to have second thoughts, while Tang has no qualms
about his lifestyle. This happens even at the most beginning stages of the
film. When Tang and Song visit the whorehouse for the first time in the
film, Song leaves completely unsatisfied. He believes that he has wasted
his money on the prostitute and scolds himself, saying that he should have
sent that 100 yuan home to pay for his son's schooling. Suddenly, Song realizes
that cheating on his wife and neglecting his son at whorehouses fails to
pay off in the end. He becomes somewhat ashamed of himself, and this eventually
leads him to his redemption at the surprising end of the film.
of this film revolves around Song's relationship with Yuan Feng Ming,
a 16 year old boy whom he and Tang meet at a job marketplace. Song "adopts"
young Feng Ming as his nephew, although his original plan is to murder
Feng Ming in the coal mine and later collect the compensation money. Again,
Song's intentions are immoral and hedonistic. He even attempts to corrupt
young Feng Ming by purchasing a prostitute for him at a city whorehouse.
Song practically forces Feng Ming to have sex with this prostitute, even
though he wants no part of it. Afterwards, Feng Ming bursts into tears,
shouting "I am a bad man! I am ashamed!" Once again, shame comes
into the picture. At this point, Song's relationship with Feng Ming subtly
begins to turn around.
Song sacrifices himself in order to save the life of his "nephew." As a result, Feng Ming collects the compensation money from the boss, which enables him to return to school and help his younger sister pay for school also. In the last scene of the film, Feng Ming watches as Song's immorality and shame float into the sky along with the smoke of his cremated body. One might ask, is this ending happy or sad? I believe that it is a very happy and optimistic ending. It provides an education for Feng Ming, self-redemption for Song, and hope for the future of rural China.
Can capitalism change morals? This is the question that Li Yang challenges viewers to answer. Indeed Blind Shaft is a work of ideology that shows the changes in moral values. Guilt, remorse and fear, all of these concepts of human emotion come second to the dynamic characters in people's pursuit of profit. Likewise, Li Yang attempts to depict the change of values and expanding financial corruption of China's rural areas being industrialized.
Mr. Yuan's death comes as a shock, yet this scene provides the impetus for Li Yang's depiction of the way pursuing monetary gain can change morals. Here, Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang show no remorse or guilt for killing. They simply want one thing, money. Very rapidly Li Yang constructs this framework of thought that displays the corruption of money. At one point, in regards to making money, Tang Xhaoyang exclaims, "I'll get rid of anyone in my way." A similar practice is evident in the actions of the coalmine owner whose main concern is the "health" of the mine. This concept also depicts the struggles of China transitioning from socialism to a market economy driven by capitalism.
One such struggle is that of the enormous population of China, as evident by the mine owner explaining that China has a shortage of everything except people. Indeed the depiction of the unemployed, including young Yuan Fengming, shows the struggle for employment. The groups of labors sitting at the bus stop exemplify the competition for employment. Suggesting that modern China is rapidly creating the problem of unemployment. Li Yang's depiction of the unemployed and the mine owners suggests that in a country with a huge labor force, only few have the privilege of ownership and that is the only position that can provide meaningful profit.
Yuan Fengming is light in Blind Shaft. He is the young innocent "China" that is trying to provide for his family. With his young face, bright blue jacket and beaming smile, he is an individual who is pure and morally sound. Perhaps he represents the old ways of China -- the values of respect and kindness that united village peoples. However, He also represents the power of money, as Yuan Fengming is forced to leave school because of his tuition, yet he is not discouraged and sees his work as a short detour from reaching his goal. His experiences thus may explain the control of money on a population. Likewise, he is exposed to the real world through money. It is the hope of earning money that exposes him to the "corrupt China," by means of Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyang who have Yuan Fengming lose his innocence through prostitution, sex, and alcohol before they kill him. He is rapidly introduced into the world of money.
Throughout Li Yang's story, money is consistently fighting the old way. From the old villages and towns that retained a spirit of community and where individuals socialize with one another by a commonly shared set of values, the audience now sees China as composed of many rapidly industrializing cities whose inhabitants are polarized and disconnected from everyone. They dismantle the moral fabric of society. Monetary gain for personal sustenance is no longer a means to an end; it is now the end. In the pursuit of power and wealth, people destroy the moral and ethical foundations of their society.
Cannibalism is a very disturbing practice throughout human history. The word, cannibalism, in the traditional sense means that humans eat each other for food. No one in today's world supports the practice of cannibalism, because we all know that eating humans is morally wrong. I did not think that the cannibalism still exists, but the movie "Blind Shaft" proved me wrong. "Blind Shaft" illustrates that people like Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyao murder others at the dark bottom of coal mines shafts in order to get money from the coal mine managers. The director of the movie, Li Yang, warns viewers that if Chinese society just goes after money and a material life, the capitalistic system will most likely turn the society into modern cannibals.
Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyao are perfect examples of being "hunters" in the Chinese capitalistic society. The director started his movie with a very disturbing scene of Song Jinming murdering his "brother", Mr.Yuan. The movie used many dramatic effects to make Song Jinming and Tang Zhaoyao very good "actors". Their "perfect" acts fooled the manager of the coal mine. However, Director Li created the manager of the coal mine to be as cold hearted as Tang and Song. The first action that the manager took as soon as he heard about the "accident" was not asking whether anyone was hurt; instead, he ordered his employees to block the exits of the mine, so the news would not get out. If the manager were not selfish and money-loving, Song and Tang would not have been successful with their plans. Furthermore, to some degree, Director Li showed that the manager provided a money-making environment for Song and Tang.
I did not think that Song Jinming has more humanity in him than Tang Zhaoyao does until Tang chose Yuan Fengming as their next victim. Tang Zhaoyao lied to Yuan Fengming about making money by working in a coal mine, and forced Yuan Fengming to call Song Jinming ��uncle.�� Song did not agree with the plan to murder Yuan Fengming, because Song thought Yuan was just a sixteen-year-old boy. Sadly, Tang Zhaoyao��s inhumanity and greed caused his heart to become icy cold and blind. Although Tang warned Song many times about the fact that no one in society really cared for him and everyone cared the most about money, Song still would not agree to murder Yuan Fengming. Director Li seemed to give some "hope" about the conscience of a murderer. For examples, Song would rather save money for his son to go to school than pay for his pleasure with prostitutes; when Yuan Fengming asked Song to lend him some money to donate to a beggar boy to pay for his education, Song donated even more money than Yuan did.
Director Li created an unexpected ending to the movie. He made Song a
"hunter" with some humanity left and certain amount of traditional
values. When Song discovered that Yuan Fengming is the son of Mr. Yuan
whom he murdered, Song told Tang to spare Fengming as the only male heir
for Yuan��s family. However, I did not expect Song to sacrifice his life
to protect Yuan Fengming from being murdered by Tang. I wonder if Director
Li intended to end the movie with deaths of Song and Tang, with Yuan Fengming
taking the compensation for the deaths of his "uncles," to tell
viewers that justice still exists in a capitalistic society.
Blinded by Greed
Dark and gripping, Li Yang's Blind Shaft, is a shocking tale of greed and violence in China's coal mines. Blind Shaft depicts the current conflict in China, as the Chinese move from Mao Zedong's strict Socialist control of pre-1978 towards a more market driven economy. Today China struggles to balance two political systems; socialism and its inherent bureaucracies with capitalism and its income disparities plus high unemployment. This movie does not frame socialism nor capitalism in a positive light, instead it paints a dark portrait of ordinary lives gone awry, caught in the net of a rapidly changing country.
Authentically filmed in uninviting coal mines, where miners are up at
dawn and work grueling hours, the realism of the cinematography almost
plays like a documentary. The story is woven around two men, Song Jingming
and Tang Zhaoyang, who routinely scam the owners of illegal coal mines
by murdering miners in fake mining accidents, then posing as their family
members to profit from the hush money. Cruel and inhuman as these murderers
are, the mine owners are equally to blame, neither they nor the system
value human life. This problem is endemic in China, with 150 million rural
workers adrift without employment.
Throughout this crime fiction/melodrama run the themes of greed leading to corruption and loss of humanity. Blind Shaft, portrays China's venture into capitalism, unregulated and booming. Scenes of brothels and peddlers openly advertising fake IDs populate the film as ordinary people try to profit from capitalism and survive. Blind Shaft is blindingly factual and real, highlighting current social problems, explaining why it was banned in China. The age old battle of good versus evil is played out in the grimy pits of Blind Shaft. The ending is supposed to leave the viewer in awe, and it most certainly does.