Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"A World Without Thieves" Review

“A World Without Thieves” (Chinese title: Tian Xia Wu Zei), a film from writer/director Feng Xiaogang based on the original novel by Zhao Benfu, tells the story of a con couple facing a moral dilemma while traveling by train through the mountains of China. The Wangs’ trouble begins soon after the opening in which they blackmail a businessman in order to extort his BMW. On their way through Tibet, Wang Li (played by Rene Liu) mysteriously calls it quits from her life of crime, claiming that there’s nothing but money between her and Wang Bo (played by Andy Lau). In her journey outside the car, she encounters the young and naïve carpenter, only known as Dumbo (played by Wang Baoqiang). Dumbo has just decided to take the 60,000 Yuan he has earned working in the town back to his unnamed village so that he can buy a house and find a wife. Their encounter is brief and friendly, yet profound. They meet again the following day at the train station along with Wang Bo. In his trusting and naïve manner, Dumbo is speaking loudly about the money he is carrying with him and shouts, “Which one of you is a thief.” The irony of his question is that his entire journey is surrounded by a consortium of thieves led by Uncle Li (played by You Ge).

The film is very entertaining from the beginning. There is humor and drama almost instantly. However, this doesn’t last long enough. The only dynamic characters to exist in this world are Li and Bo—everyone else is a basic two-dimensional character with predictable roles and motives.
This is a far cry from an artistic film. It does manage to have a few beautiful scenic clips of the Tibetan landscape as the train rolls through the vast countryside. Feng tends to over use the slight-of-hand, slow-motion images of thieves dueling with razor blades. It’s a nice touch when watching them steal wallets and small electronics from worshippers at a Buddhist temple, but it gets old after that.

It seems that the premise of the film is simply that there are three kinds of people in the world: the naïve, the thieves, and the cops. It is filled with escapism in all forms—from figurative to literal escapes involving moral and physical dilemmas.

There are quite a few truths to be found in the course of the movie. Dumbo proclaims that “People can’t be worse than wolves.” In his innocence, he believes that if a wolf won’t harm him, why should another human. Another truth to be told is, “This century’s most expensive commodity is talent.” Although it was said in reference to finding good thieves to join Uncle Li’s gang, it hold true for many other aspects of life.

There is nothing wrong with spending nearly two hours with “A World Without Thieves”. It’s a fine piece of entertainment and enjoyable. It even contains a decent amount of humor. Just don’t expect anything more than that.

On a side note: the subtitles are very good (unlike many films I’ve seen on television in China) and the film was nominated for Best Asian Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The piracy of Hollywood

Today I saw a news blurb that said the American film industry is backing a lawsuit by the WTO against Chinese film piracy. I have two views on this issue.

The first view is that product piracy is rampant in China. There are knock-off products everywhere in this country. They even have forged artwork of Chinese artists. This is nothing new around here. And China has been stepping up efforts to reduce pirated and forged products. However, this is very difficult in such a large country with enormous cities and secluded rural communities. At least the government here is making an effort.
On the issue of movies...

Go ahead an try to find a real copy of a Hollywood film. I dare you. It's almost impossible. And if you do find one, it'll cost a week's pay for an average Chinese citizen. Hollywood needs an economics lesson. First, China could be the world's largest market for films, if the industry understood the country. Second, there isn't a lot of money to go around among the average citizen. There are plenty of menial jobs here that only pay about 1000RMB per month. The minimum wage is about 850RMB/month. The conversion rate is approximately 8RMB to one U.S. dollar. Going to the movies in China costs about the same as going to the movies in the U.S. In Shanghai, the theater costs 80RMB. Now think of the cost of a pirated DVD. It costs on average 10RMB for one DVD. And many of those DVDs are of high quality. Here is the simple economics. $10 to a person in the U.S. isn't that much to spend on a movie. Sure it seems like it, but when you're making $30,000 a year it's not so bad. Think about a person making 30,000RMB a year (which is pretty good by Chinese standards) and paying 80RMB for one movie. That's a big difference percentage-wise. If Hollywood wants to make money in the Chinese market, it must rethink it's economics. You can't charge people the same price in different regions when the standards of living vary so greatly. I can guarantee that if Hollywood charged 15-20RMB for a movie in China, the piracy would lessen significantly and theater attendance would increase. All of this would mean large profits for studios.

And that is today's economics lesson.

Monday, April 03, 2006

idiots and rants and apologies

First the apologies:
I am very sorry I haven't been keeping up with this blog. I will have some movie reviews soon... I promise. I have been seeing some in China. I will probably try to write a couple short ones of "Good night, and good luck" and "Walk the line". Here's the preview: positive.
Also, if anyone is interested in seeing photos of China (I have been to Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai, and Zhouzhuang), let me know and I'll send you a link or something.
On the rant end:
I recently received this anonymous e-mail about my blog. I think this refers to my little observance of a performance in Shenzhen catering to foreigners and the terrible translations that we were provided. The person who sent the e-mail must be more of a pompous jackass than I am without a sense of humor. All I have to say is, "the sauce explodes the chicken rabbit." (Credit must be given to the Yangshuo dumpling restaurant for that one.) And I have a few dozen other really funny translations for you... some others weren't even put into English--like the sign that said, in Chinese, something about selling "stupid chicken and duck".
This is unedited from the e-mail.
Re: your blog, Dec. 27 The English program made no sense? Have you ever considered that English is a foreign language in China? You should be thankful that the event organizers even made an attempt to use English. They didn't have to. An attempt was made to communicate with you and you critiized it. You're not in Kansas anymore. Should the world bow down to you and your language. Are you that important?