The World's Many Falsehoods

Erin Palombi

In the unreal world director Jia Zhangke creates in his film ironically entitled The World, the characters seem to constantly float somewhere between reality and an ideal existence. The fact that the Beijing theme park, filled with fake replicas of iconic world locations, is called "The World" is the director's most blatant comment that the "real" world in which the film��s characters live is itself fake; "The World" and the world are fake. All the characters, for the most part, are employed at this park, where they are out of touch with reality (in that they are almost living adventurous lives as world travelers), and yet at the same time very aware of the very harsh reality of their lives (they are simply employees in an artificial setting). Xiao Tao's and Taisheng Shi's apparent suicides in the final portion of the film morbidly illustrate the falseness of the entirety of the world as depicted by Jia Zhangke.

Everything from relationships to identification cards in this film is a falsehood. As we see in the beginning with Xiao Tao's relationship with her boyfriend, Taisheng Shi, what he feels for her is not real love. At one point, after she refuses to sleep with him, he says accusingly "how old are you? Still playing the virgin?" which illustrates that he is simply interested in the physical aspect of their encounters. This arguably does not constitute a real relationship.

Another instance of falsehood is what occurs onstage. The main characters (most of whom are dancers) must perform together, and although there are definite rifts between and amongst them, they must maintain some semblance of harmony as they work together in each performance. One prime example of such a rift is the relationship between Xiao Wei and Lao Niu, both dancers at the park. They have constant misunderstandings and disagreements, which at one point culminate in Lao Niu's setting fire to his own jacket in protest to Xiao Wei's breakup, but once onstage they seem to get along perfectly. This is yet another falsehood.
The park itself contains countless falsehoods. The iconic structures for which it is known (including a miniature New York skyline with the twin towers still intact) serve as physical reminders that the world in which the characters exist is phony, but there are still more subtle falsehoods. In one scene Xiao Tao and Taisheng are seen in an old airplane display wearing a flight attendant and pilot��s uniform. Both are simply acting the part of the world traveler again, roles as fake as the identification cards which Taisheng Shi makes for his business associate, Old Song.

Finally, not even the film is allowed to appear real to the viewer. By way of inserting various short, unrealistic, animated clips into the movie every time a character receives a text message on his or her cell phone, the director manages to remind his audiences that they are watching a movie that is not to be confused with real life or the real world. The double suicide which ends the film shows just how fake the world is. At the very end, presumably after they have died (which the viewer assumes primarily since the screen goes black), when Taisheng asks if they are dead, Xiao Tao replies "no��this is just the beginning." This implies to the viewer that the world in which they were previously living was a mere replica of something more real (but was itself definitely fake), and that now that they have left the fake life they had been leading in the fake world they can start considering themselves really alive.

The False World

Emma Powell

The movie "The World" is a critique of the falseness of modern society in Chinese urban culture. The story is set in a theme park called "The World". The park has smaller models of famous buildings from all over the world. Although similar to the Disney Epcot in Florida it is also set on the outskirts of Beijing, China's capital. The characters are working class people who came to the city from rural villages and are proud as well as amazed by their "World" foreign to them. However, they realize it is not real as they spend all day entertaining tourists and pretending to be someone they are not. The main character Tao wears an Indian sari but is not closer to seeing India. The whole film is based around this false world that looks very fancy and sophisticated but in reality is just made up of small models. Tao says she wants to travel and envies her friend Anna who came from Russia. Later on she is crushed when she realizes Anna's freedom to travel comes with a price. Anna becomes a prostitute in order to make enough money to travel and visit her sister.

In a world that is so fake, it is no wonder that people do not trust each other. Because of either the corruption of modern society or the false reality of the theme park people do not trust one another. Niu and Wei fight because he does not trust her but in the end they are the most loyal. Tao does not know whether to trust Taisheng. He tells her not to trust him, not to trust anyone. Their world is so false that they have lost the ability to stay faithful to anything. Taisheng tells her not to trust him specifically because he knows he is cheating on her with another woman. Liao Ah Qun is a married woman but since her husband left ten years ago now her marriage is fake because they have not seen each other in so long. She longs to go to France to find him. For her "The World" park is not enough because although it has a mini Eiffel Tower it does not have the town where her husband is. As a profession she makes imitation western clothing. She fakes what customers want out of magazines. This is another example of the falsity in the lives of the characters.

Interspersed in the movie are short animated clips. The clips come when characters receive important text messages. The animated clips pull the viewer out of the false "reality" of film and remind them that even the story and characters are not real. Characters fly through the air and graphics swirl in an imaginary way. Although they feel forced the animation jolts the viewer out of the story and forces consideration of modernity and technology. The style of several aspects of the film is very similar to the German Film "Run Lola Run" which is broken up by animation, and even has dead lovers talking to each other in dark space. The theme is also about people who are alienated from society and forced to do anything they can to save themselves. The point is that breaking up a drama with animation is not a new practice created by this film. In fact it takes away from the message of the film by making it seem too comical and light-hearted. The emphasis on this modern technology is another comment about the disconnectedness of people in modern society. They communicate through electronics instead of in person. Niu is always asking Wei where she was and why she did not have her phone on. Wei is trying to avoid her phone in order to create an actual human connection with Niu. The message of the film is how much this alienation is affecting modern society. The last words of the film act as a warning "are we dead" says Taisheng "No this is only the beginning" answers Tao.

Chinese Modernity: The Construction of A False Society

Matt Kirk

The Modernization and Globalization of China is the most destructive force to today's society. People now live shattered, broken lives that are perpetuated by the drive to be more modern. The characters in Jia Zhangke's film The World are excellent examples of how people's lives have become fragmented by the new trends of society. These new trends have replaced old values with new ones that have a false importance in the character's lives. The characters are so caught up in maintaining their false lives that they almost always fail to recognize the aspects of their lives that have real meaning.

The movie takes place in the world park in Beijing. The main characters of the film work as models/dancers or security guards in the park. In this park there are replicas of the most famous structures in the world's greatest cities. Each replica is constructed at a fraction of its original size and is often portrayed comically in ways that make it somewhat ridiculous to seriously compare these replicas to the actual structures. The world park is symbolic on a few different levels. First of all, the park is a false world in which the people inside (the main characters) live false lives. Also, the world park seems to glorify the replicas of its famous structures just as the real world glorifies these structures in real life. Perhaps these structures are not as great as we perceive them to be in the modern context. Finally, the characters of the movie are living false lives as a result of modernization of Beijing, yet they live inside "the world." This could be stretched to all cities of the world where people's lives coexist with modernization. The characters that represent people living in Beijing could just as easily represent people living in Paris or New York.

One key trait of modernization anywhere is the drive to make money. The way Tao and her colleagues make their living is by modeling a variety of extremely elaborate costumes. This kind of occupation did not exist before modernization really took hold in China. In essence, the modern world is paying Tao to wear a mask over who she really is. Instead of valuing Tao for being a caring, intelligent, independent person, modernity values her for her beauty and the exotic costumes that she wears.

Another false aspect of these characters lives the results from modernity is false communication. Throughout the film the characters experience difficulty communicating to each other how they feel. This is symbolized with the use of cell phones and text messages. At many times where communication is very important to understanding the emotions of the characters, the characters (mainly Tao) receive a message on her cell phone. Also, at times in the film when the characters really need to talk to each other, they are only able to communicate via cell phone. This does not constitute real communication. Only fragments of what the people are trying to say come through to the people they are talking to.

Modernism has given these people the lives that they have. Perhaps the people of China would much rather live life in modernity than be cut off from the universe like those living in rural China. This film is trying to make these people understand that being modern will not give you a happy, meaningful life. Modernism will only help you make money and have fancy clothes, and cell phones. Jia Zhangke wants to take a step back from our own lives and criticize the importance of modernity to our happiness. Without realizing Modernism's role in contemporary society, we too will be stuck in similar depressing lives like those found in The World.

Layers of the World

Lee Stablein

Jia Zhangke has acquired a reputation as a filmmaker who is far more concerned with authenticity than commercial success. 2004's The World is no exception to this trend, but is a film that leaves me with conflicting feelings.

To his credit, Jia Zhangke has created a film that accurately portrays the brutal reality of modern capitalism - as Taisheng says in the film, in capitalist society, "you can trust only yourself." There is a pervasive greed - from Little Sister's overtime night-shift to Old Song's illegal business practices to Taisheng's work for Old Song - and a sense that this is all the fault of Western economic influence. There seems to be a contempt for the West in this film - "the Word Trade Centre was bombed on September 11, but we still have it," says one security guard, Erxiao. Most of the World Park is made up of the replicas of Western city archtectures; we get only one-off, passing appearances by India and Egypt in the film as Eastern locales worth space in the park, no Tokyo or Johannesburg in sight. Later in the film, Taisheng makes a comment to Liao about how she makes her money buy copying Western fashion (as opposed to Chinese). Finally, there is the constant companionship of the cell phone for every character, and this device seems to be at the centre of every turbulent incident in the film.

Jia Zhangke's portrayal of reality extends to the very structure of the film. Like real people and real life, this film and its characters are constructed in layers, and Jia Zhangke does a commendable job of showing us each of these layers. There is the outermost shell, the performer that the tourists see, which we are (naturally) introduced to first. This represents the most superficial fantasy, the kind of illusion that has to be crafted well enough to elude suspicion while it is glanced at. Then there is the illusion of the park itself; it encompasses the seemingly universal dream of the whole cast to escape to some other place, but like their stage faces, it is just a fa?ade with no substance behind it. At the core of each of these characters, and the film as a whole, is a tumultuous daily existence. None of these characters really have lives, because those lives are so turbulent and stressful that the characters are all permanently depressed. Tao is worried about Taisheng's loyalty to her; Taisheng is convinced that Tao doesn't love him because she won't have sex; Lao Niu is possessive of Xiao Wei and she is sick of it; Liao hasn't seen her husband in a decade, and so on. At the film's core is the dystopian reality of capitalism and urban life, which in this case is covered by the veneers of cosmopolitan-ness and beautiful, successful, smiling people.

Unfortunately, all this authenticity is buried in a mire of bad story telling and even worse animation. A great part of the film is spent wondering what it's about, and the closing scenes with Tao the house-sitter do nothing to assuage this confusion. There is little connection between the scenes, and two adjacent scenes may or may not be related by content or context. Add to this the insertion of stylised, rigid animation at almost random intervals throughout the film, and the film quickly becomes a convoluted stream of arbitrary images. Though he has a fundamentally strong project on his hands with The World, Jia Zhangke does himself a massive disservice with his choices regarding construction. The animation in particular makes this film difficult to decipher, and while a good film should make the viewer think and dig for meaning, no one should have to clear the kind of brush that Jia Zhangke has left for us in The World.

The Odd Couple

Tiffany Speegle

Chinese and Russian Cultures Clash in Jia Zhangke's recent film The World, which addresses China's cultural identity, or in this case, the lack thereof. Although the film takes place in the big city of Beijing years after the end of the Cultural Revolution, it is obvious that China and its people have not recovered from the wounds it left opened. In a sense, the 10-year Cultural Revolution wrecked China's sense of traditional and moral identity, allowing them to turn to Western ideas of sex, money, and power. Suddenly, the traditional Chinese ideals of community, harmony, and temperance faded with massive urbanization as well as both literal and metaphorical prostitution.

The western world's impact on Chinese culture and identity is illustrated in the very setting of the movie - a theme park that showcases several different western cities and countries around the world. The theme park houses replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the World Trade Center in New York City, the Tower of Pisa, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of The World, so to speak, is China's connection with Russia in the film. Both modern China and modern Russia have strong ties to communism. Both countries turned to communist ideals at around the same time, in the late 1910s to early 1920s.

Interestingly enough, a few Beijing travelers see a prominent image of Russia on a television in a public bus, along with other famous sites from around the world. The people on the bus see a beautiful image of what appears to be St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, a 16th century construction that has attracted tourists and pilgrims alike for hundreds of years. After this image appears on the movie screen, viewers are quickly introduced to Anna, a Russian woman who was smuggled into China to work as a dancer at the theme park so that she can support the two young children she left behind in her homeland. Anna becomes fast friends with Xiao Tao, the film's main character who also works as a dancer in the park.

If one were to see the theatrical version of the film, one would witness a group of Russian girls walking in the streets of home near the film's beginning. A man proceeds to rip their passports from their hands, ensuring that they cannot make their way into China to work. Unfortunately, this scene was cut from the DVD release; while put into context, one can see how Jia Zhangke intended Chinese and Russian cultures to clash from the start.

It is hard to say whether Jia Zhangke's placement of Russian culture in The World points to a continuing lack of Chinese cultural identity or a desperate attempt for China to regain their cultural identity. After all, Russia is a very large country that spans all the way across northern Europe as well as northern Asia, and some still refer to Russia as "Eurasia." Perhaps Jia Zhangke's focus on Russia in this film is a metaphor for what China itself has become. Since China has been so greatly influenced by western cultures, one could easily get away with calling China "Eurasia" instead. This may simply be Jia Zhangke's idea of a joke, but my guess is that it is his intellectual attempt to bring two differing cultures together - Russia and China - that have a lot more in common than one would think. Perhaps his real message is that together we suffer, together we struggle, and together we can learn to survive the ever-changing world.

One Extremely Poignant Tale

Sul Ali

Director Jia Zhangke, in his movie The World, follows the lives of people, most notable the main couple: Xiaotao Zhao and Taisheng Shi, living in a theme park in Beijing named "The World". Through the lives of these people Zhangke creates a sense of repulsion towards living in a false world. This repulsion is exaggerated by the fact that the characters living in the park are happy with their lives, and want and expect little from it.

Before we began to understand the lives of the characters we must first understand the symbolism of the title of movie and the name of the theme park - the world. The word world brings to mind either the names of a few countries with its people, place and monuments or life of an average man. Traveling around the world is considered to be the dream of an average man. He wants to travel to a different place to leave behind his worries temporarily and admire the true beauty of what exists in the world. This is in sharp contrast with the characters living in the theme park.

Director Jia Zhangke combines the two pictures of the word ��world�� and explores the lives (world) of people who believe they live in a place that has all the good elements of the world, i.e. all the wonderful monuments in the world. The only difference between the people living in the park and average man is that the people living in the park confuse their theme-park world to a real world. The main character Xiaotao Zhao is an amiable and a hardworking person who came to the city with dreams of improving her life. But afterwards she finds herself lost in life and relationship, and leads a false life. When her friend calls her up she cheerfully says that she is going to 'India' (of the theme park) with such realism that it astonishes the viewer. She cannot and doesn't want to believe that she is living in a false world. Similarly, she has false relations, for example, with her lover Taisheng Shi. While dating her he is seeing another girl adding more irony and falsity to Zhao's life. It is heart-shattering when one observes that Zhao doesn't want much with her life. One of her only wishes is Taisheng Shi to not give up on her. But again, only the viewer knows the truth while Zhao continues her false life.

Through the lives of people like Zhao and Taisheng Shi, director Jia Zhangke expresses his opinions about living in a false world. This is well expressed in the movie as the movie itself takes on a gloomy story and a tragic ending. He develops a sense of poignancy in the movie that the viewer can attach himself/herself to and experience how a false life is not worth living at all.

Passport Please!

Akhil Banthia

Jia Zhangke's World (2005) is a visually arresting movie that criticizes the effects of globalization in today's world. Using a theme park, which hosts replicas of famous monuments from all around the world as the backdrop, director Zhangke spins a dark tale of lost identities in this fake world. The glamour and fantasy of the stage is contrasted by the dismal reality that exists off stage.
The passport is the most important symbol in the movie, symbolizing identity and freedom. In the beginning of the movie when the Russian girls are brought into the world park their passports are taken away. Entering into this fake world, they lose not only their identity as Russians, but also their freedom to actually see the real world. Xiaotao refers to the different locations in the theme park as if it were the real place. She tells her friend that she is headed for India when she actually means that she is headed for the part of the theme park that is a replica of India. This inability to distinguish between the real and the fake is echoed in Xiaotao and Taisheng's relationship and again in Liao's affair with Taisheng. Xiaotao wants to abstain from getting into sexual relations with Taisheng till she is absolutely sure that he will not cheat on her. Later on when she does commit to him he cheats on her. Laio on the other hand is involved with Taisheng only till she gets her visa to visit her husband in France. Zhangke feels that globalization is a curse that causes individuality and culture to be lost.
No replica of the Eiffel tower can replace the real thing the real thing, just as cell-phone text messages can never replace real human interaction. Director Jia Zhangke emphasizes this point by using animation every time two people communicate through cell-phones. When Er Guniang (little sister) dies due to an accident while working the night shift his parents are called to the city and given cash as compensation for his death. The silent mourning of the father cannot find expression as he quietly accepts cash in exchange for his young son's life. Such is the way of the city where everything has a price, even human life.
With all his criticism of urban culture, Jia Zhangke does not eliminate human interaction altogether, and we see this mainly in Xiaotao's interaction with Anna. However, these interactions are never allowed to blossom into real relationships, everyone trying to escape this prison that they have created themselves. In fact, in the end when Xiaotao and Taisheng are killed by a gas leak while house sitting for Xiao Wei and Lao Niu the neighbors drag them out and say that they had warned the young couple many times. This inability to differentiate between Xiao Wei and Lao Niu, and Xiaotao and Taisheng by their own neighbors exemplifies how lost our identities have become in this modern age.
<BODY BACKGROUND="../../bckgrnd/bckgrnd.jpg"> <font face="Kai"></font>