The Impact of Collective Storytelling
The individual characters--the real workers and those who are fictitious--are profoundly moving. All of the subjects are highly introspective and melancholic--some of them are near tears--as they speak of past experiences that bind them emotionally and materially to the plant. Their lives, livelihoods and self esteem were completely wrapped up with the factory. And they took pride in their work, their contribution.
There was a time when this factory’s employees' work was considered so essential, they were given extra rations of meat each month, and bonus pay for secrecy about their work projects. One man describes how he learned to make his own tools when he arrived at the factory so many years ago, and how his boss instructed him to value everything he used. And, a women recounts a tragic event that occurred while she and her family were traveling to Chengdu to begin their employment at the factory, which was then a top secret asset for China‘s military establishment.
Enhancing Stories Through Details
We see personal artifacts, too--a young man’s passbook, a neatly made bed, a family photograph, makeup, a tea cup..
Footage of personal moments and items are interspersed with shots of the factory being emptied--we see huge machines placed on flatbed trucks and hauled away, and several times we witness cadres of workers walking out of the plant through its front gate, passing beneath huge red Chinese characters that indicate the factory name--and are removed one by one to be replaced with the name of a new luxury apartment complex that will be built in its place. A group of men pull wiring from the walls, others remove tiles from the roof. A security guard walks through debris.
The film’s pacing is slow and its mood is contemplative. Some of the images are tagged with aphorisms or poems. The effect is impressionistic and stunning. After each interview, the subject poses solo or in a group for a cinematic portrait that’s shot like a still with the camera holding for several minutes on subjects who look directly into the lens and move minimally. These images, delivered in silence, are absolutely haunting.
Chronicling Change In China
Important Thematic Concerns
Of this quartet of films, both Jia’s 24 City and Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes stand out as cinematic masterpieces, but Jia’s is the one that reflects the Chinese perspective, providing an insiders point of view and sensibility. It is a must see!
- Release Date: U.S. Theatrical in 2009; currently on the festival circuit
- Parents Guide: Content advisory for parents
- Runtime: 112 mins
- Country: China/Hong Kong/Japan
- Language: Mandarin
- Filming Locations: Chengdu, China
- Distribution: Cinema Guild