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Unknown Pleasures (Ren Xiao Yao) (12A)



Review by: Katherine Kaminsky | Rating: Two

SET to a backdrop of political coverage in 2001, an American collision with a Chinese plane in Hainan, and the announcement that Beijing will be holding the 2008 Olympics, Unknown Pleasures explores being a teenager at that time in Datong.

The film centres around two friends, Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) and Bin Bin (Zhao Wei Wei), who spend their time hanging around a smoky recreation centre with no jobs and little aspirations due to the surroundings they have grown up in.

Amidst half-built highways and derelict factories there is the sound of a loud tannoy announcing the lottery results, therefore providing false hope that money will solve everything.

Bin Bin's mother thinks he is useless and should join the Beijing army.

His girlfriend, Yuan Yuan (Zhou Qing Feng), has decided to sacrifice the present to construct her future and is heading for university.

The two hold hands, sing along to karaoke and watch a cartoon about a mythical monkey king.

In contrast, is bomb enthusiast, Xiao Ji, who doesn't see the point of living past 30.

He has a crush on Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao), a confident, beautiful dancer with a butterfly tattoo and a gangster boyfriend.

This doesn't worry Xiao Ji and the two eventually battle against the odds to spend time together.

Bin Bin fails the test for the army and borrows money from a loan shark.

He buys a mobile phone for Yuan Yuan so she will keep in touch when she goes off to study and sells DVDs to pay back the debt.

Eventually, Bin Bin and Xiao Ji try to rob a bank to end their troubles.

Like slacker movies before, this film fully captures the dismal prospects faced by children growing up with nothing to look forward to.

The difference is, this film is Chinese and explores growing up with Western influences.

They smoke, drink Coke, play pool and ride motorcycles, dance to Western music and are influenced by American films.

They are also part of the birth control generation who will never have brothers and sisters.

They are experiencing, on mass, the individual life experience.

There is a nice touch when Bin Bin is peddling DVDs. The loan shark, whom he is working to repay, asks if he has 'Platform', or 'Xiao Wu', both earlier films from director Jia Zhang-Ke.

The response is 'no', 'Don't you have any art house?' he asks.

Well, this film certainly is art house. In true style, it is a long sit. Filmed on digital video, with an improvisational style, much of which could easily have been cut.

Still, if you do have time, no doubt this will inspire you to check out other films by Chinese director, Jia Zhang-Ke.

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