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The World

Rated:Not Rated
Studio:Zeitgeist Films, Celluloid Dreams
Director:Zhang Ke Jia
Cast:Tao Zhao, Jue Jing, Jing Zha, Zhong-wei Jiang, Chen Taisheng
Screen Writer:Zhang Ke Jia
Music Score:Lim Giong
Release Date:2005
Our Rating:

Sound familiar? Young singles take jobs in a theme park that simulates the world's great travel destinations. When not decked out in cartoon-foreign garb, they worry about money, make do with substandard housing, engage in the occasional bit of on-the-side larceny and expend a lot of energy trying to get into each other's pants.

The hook is that it's not happening at Epcot, but at World Park in Beijing, where the wonders of the globe are available to customers who don't mind dealing with miniatures. A one-third-size Eiffel Tower is one of the scaled-down wonders that filmmaker Jia Zhangke uses as absurdist backdrops for his ensemble drama's lightly interwoven stories of employee romance and deception. (The night scenes make particularly good use of the theme-park environment's eerily beautiful lighting and atmospherics.)

But beyond the novelty of the setting – which isn't even that novel when you have something similar a few exits south – there's just not enough going on. Unjustifiably long at 133 minutes, the movie veers perilously close to Altman's inconclusive The Company in its scattershot portrait of an entertainment troupe whose workings yield drama in slow, measured doses (and don't adequately distinguish between lead and supporting characters). At some point, you begin to wonder if the themes Jia is touching on – workplace safety, the drive to make money, even performer Tao's (Tao Zhao) carefully guarded virginity – are genuine metaphors for the new commercialized China, or if you're merely imposing the idea yourself as a way to kill time between scenes. At least it'll give somebody something to think about while herding guests onto The Maelstrom at the Norway pavilion next week.

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