The World (Shijie) (2004)
Main Menu Audio
Trailer-An Autumn Afternoon, The Wind Will Carry Us, Early Summer
Trailer-Ikuru, Tokyo Story
|Year Of Production||2004|
|Running Time||133:52 (Case: 143)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Zhang Ke Jia|
Hong Wei Wang
Jing Dong Liang
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The World (Shijie) is Chinese writer/director Zhang Ke Jia's fourth full length feature. Like the others (Pickpocket, Platform and Unknown Pleasures ) it is an often sad portrait of a changing China. Unlike the others, which tended to work on an intimate level, Zhang Ke Jia uses an expanded palette and a cinemascope ratio to give The World an international spread and meaning. The fact that it is his first film to have official sanction from the Chinese government suggests to me that they probably didn't watch it hard enough as the film is at times a stinging indictment of the "new China".
The World is set in a theme park in Beijing which features the tagline above. So unbelievable it had to be true, the park is a representation of the sights of the world, all crammed into an area taking 14 minutes to travel by monorail. The park features miniatures of world landmarks including London Bridge, Manhattan (Twin Towers intact) and the Taj Mahal. The centrepiece is a quarter size model of the Eiffel Tower.
The main characters in the film all work at the park. There is Tao (Zhang regular Tao Zhao), a performer in the lavish shows put on in the park. She is beautiful but somewhat remote. Her boyfriend Taisheng is a security guard at the park. He moved from the country to the big city a few years ago for work and is joined by his boyhood friends, including the gentle "little girl" named because her parents wanted a girl. They become part of the tide of country folk abandoning the life on the land for a job in construction in the buzzing metropolis.
It is not just the Chinese who are moving. The performing troupe is joined by a group of Russians who have left their homeland to survive. Tao befriends the lonely Anna who has left behind her children in Russia in a desperate bid to ensure their financial future. Despite not speaking more than a few words of each others language the two women form a strong bond.
Tao and Taisheng have a troubled relationship. She finds it difficult to be intimate with him particularly in the cramped conditions in which they reside. His eye is caught by a woman, out of the park, who retro-designs knock-off fashions from European fashion catalogues.
Meanwhile friends and fellow performers Niu and Wei argue constantly.
That is pretty much all that can be said about the plot of The World. That is not a criticism of the film but a reflection of the poetic mastery of Zhang. He tells his stories in millimetres and at a pace that his fans find spellbinding and his detractors decry as boring. Often he will film a long scene in a single camera, single take, with the characters moving in and out of shot. The opening scene is a marvel as Tao rapidly walks through a maze of rooms underneath the performance hall - all in a single take - looking for a band-aid. Like Antonioni he is a supreme technician of figures in a landscape. Each of the scenes is exquisitely framed and shot and the walls of the drab apartments and the lonely streets of Beijing begin to breathe and become characters in their own right.
Throughout the film the onslaught of modern technology seems relentless. Mobile phones are everywhere and the characters communicate more with their phones than when together. Zhang also uses some curious animated sequences to represent the thoughts and dreams of his characters. Unlike so many Chinese films this Beijing is not a crowded metropolis but an empty land of construction and more construction. A country boy himself, Zhang regards with horror the effect that globalization is having on the country as the heartland of China is decimated for the lure of the neon and the dollar. The performances are true to life if not outstanding. Zhang does not write hand-wringing drama but the moments of true sadness in the film are quite devastating. The ending was a little too forced for me but overall the film is an exquisite take on modern loneliness.
Ultimately The World is a sad reflection of the truth that whilst the world offers much it delivers little and these characters will always be on the margins eking out a meagre existence.
The World comes to DVD in a 2.35:1 transfer consistent with its original cinematic aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.
Having seen a few cropped widescreen films recently I gave a jump for joy that this film has been delivered as the director intended. The film was shot on high definition video. For those acquainted with low budget digital cinema this film will come as a revelation. The image quality is mostly sensational given that it was not made on a Hollywood budget. Some of the images are unforgettable - such as the frequent shots of the Eiffel Tower set against the Beijing construction boom with cranes dotting the empty landscape. The bane of digital movies, night shots, is handled brilliantly by cinematographer Nelson Yu Lik-wai and these scenes, of which there are many, have a glow that adds to the effect of the film.
The quality of the transfer is excellent and presents the film in its best light. The colours are beautiful and stable. I looked hard for noise but found very little. There was no aliasing to speak of.
The subtitles are yellow and easy to read. Some of the speech (mainly between Anna and Tao) is not subtitled where the director wanted to get across the characters inability to communicate.
The film is long and I feared that compression would be an issue but, again, I could detect no problems. The fact that the colours in some scenes were muted seemed to be a design decision and could not be criticized.
All in all a real surprise and a great quality transfer.
The World features a Mandarin 5.1 soundtrack running at 448 Kb/s and an alternative Mandarin 2.0 track at 225 Kb/s.
The music for the film is quite exceptional. Composer Giong Lim has produced something that sounds international, modern and yet a little empty - perfectly matching the plight of the characters. The surround sound isn't always needed but it is welcome. There is an ambience of street noise and other dialogue that Zhang often uses as a counterpoint to his dialogues. This is given good separation in the soundtrack.
Bass is heavy in some of the scenes particularly during their stage shows. It appeared to me that audio sync was fine although I noticed several scenes where some ADR work appeared to have gone on and the sound became slightly echoey. An ordinary listener may not have picked it up. My only complaint is a small one - Tao wears a coat with a bell on it that makes an annoying tinkle as she walks through the scenes.
|Surround Channel Use|
Unfortunately, The World DVD does not contain many extras.
The essay by Stephen Teo is a great introduction to Zhang's work. The essay explains the life and work of the director and places The World into that context. Not having seen the earlier films I felt a bit lost but it was an entertaining read nonetheless.
The image gallery is three minutes of stills from the film.
The trailer is brief and consists mainly of the opening scene.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The World has also been released in Region 1. That version boasts the following additional extras:
It is difficult to comment on the value of the extras. Rosenbaum is a champion of the film and the filmmaker but apparently this sequence is only two minutes long.
The transfer quality could not be any better than the Region 4 version.
I would still stick with the local product.
The World is a masterful film but one which requires considerable investment on the part of the viewer.
Madman have served viewers well with this transfer which presents the film in the best possible light.
Unfortunately the extras are slight.
|DVD||Pioneer BDP-LX70 Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||Pioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||JBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer|