The World (film)

The World

The World film poster
Directed by Jia Zhangke
Produced by Hengameh Panahi
Takio Yoshida
Chow Keung
Written by Jia Zhangke
Starring Zhao Tao
Chen Taisheng
Music by Lim Giong
Cinematography Yu Lik-wai
Edited by Kong Jinglei
Distributed by United States:
Zeitgeist Films
Celluloid Dreams
Release dates
September 4, 2004
April 15, 2005
United States:
July 1, 2005
Running time
135 minutes
Country China
Language Standard Mandarin
Jin Chinese

The World (Chinese: 世界; pinyin: Shìjiè) is a 2004 Chinese film written and directed by Jia Zhangke. Starring Jia's muse, Zhao Tao, as well as Chen Taisheng, The World was filmed on and around an actual theme park located in Beijing, Beijing World Park, which recreates world landmarks at reduced scales for Chinese tourists. The World was Jia's first to gain official approval from the Chinese government.[1] Additionally, it was the first of his films to take place outside of his home province of Shanxi.

The World was a joint-production by Jia Zhangke's own Xstream Pictures, Japan's Office Kitano, and France's Lumen Films. It received additional financial support from the Shanghai Film Studio and several Japanese corporations including Bandai Visual and Tokyo FM, among others.[2]

The film premiered in competition at the 2004 Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2004,[2] but failed to win the coveted Golden Lion, the festival's top award, which ultimately went to Mike Leigh's drama Vera Drake,[3] but which Jia would win two years later with Still Life. The World also premiered in 2004 at the New York Film Festival and would go on to receive a limited release in New York City the following year on July 1, 2005.[4]


The World tells the story of two workers at Beijing World Park: a performer, Tao (played by actress Zhao Tao), and Taisheng (Chen Taisheng), a security guard and Tao's boyfriend. As the film begins, Tao is visited by her ex-boyfriend, who is on his way to Ulan Batur. Taisheng meets Tao and the ex-boyfriend at a small diner and insists on driving him to the Beijing Railway Station. From this awkward introduction, the relationship between Tao and Taisheng grows increasingly strained. Taisheng, frustrated that Tao refuses to have sex with him, is also busy with fellow migrants from his home province of Shanxi. One, Chen Zhijun nicknamed "Little Sister," is a childhood friend of Taisheng's and comes to him looking for a job. Taisheng manages to put him in touch with someone and he eventually finds work as a construction worker.

Tao, meanwhile, meets one of World Park's Russian performers, a woman named Anna. Though Anna speaks no Chinese, and Tao no Russian, the two become unlikely friends. Anna confesses to Tao that she will quit her job and implies that she must prostitute herself in order to make enough money to see her sister, also in Ulan Batur (Tao, realizing only that Anna is upset, tries to comfort her). Later, while at a karaoke bar, Tao runs into Anna and confirms that Anna has indeed become a prostitute. Anna runs away and Tao cries, neither quite knowing what the other is thinking. As for Taisheng, he soon proves to possess a roving eye. When one of his associates asks him to drive a woman, Qun, to Taiyuan so that she can deal with her gambling brother, Taisheng agrees. Taisheng becomes enraptured with Qun shortly afterwards, and the two often meet at Qun's small clothing shop. There, Qun tells Taisheng about her husband, who years before had left China for France. Since then, she has tried with some difficulty to obtain a visa to join him. Though he pursues her, Qun rejects Taisheng's physical propositions.

Taisheng eventually convinces Tao to have sex with him, with Tao threatening that she will poison him if he ever betrays her. His life, however, quickly spirals out of control when "Little Sister" is killed in a construction accident. Sometime after the accidental death of Little Sister, Wei and Niu, two other performers at World Park, announce that they plan to wed, despite the fact that Niu is dangerously jealous and unstable. At the wedding, Tao discovers a text-message sent from Qun, who has at last received her visa, to Taisheng, saying that their meeting and relationship was destined. Believing that Taisheng has indeed betrayed her, Tao is devastated and cuts off contact with him while she house-sits for Wei and Niu. When Taisheng comes to visit her there, she ignores him. Sometime later, Taisheng and Tao have succumbed to the gas leak, presumably in their friends' apartment. As the film fades to black, Taisheng's voice asks, "Are we dead?" "No," Tao's voice responds, "this is only the beginning."



The film's nascence began after Jia had lived in Beijing for several years in 2000. After two films based in his native province of Shanxi, Jia decided to make a film about his impressions of Beijing as a world city,[5] after a cousin back home asked him about life in a metropolitan environment.[6] Jia, however, would not began writing the screenplay until after the release of his next film Unknown Pleasures, in 2003 during the SARS outbreak.[5] The screenplay took approximately a year to write, over which time the story slowly changed, such that it became harder to distinguish the fact that it took place in Beijing, and the focus of the setting shifted to that of any large city with many migrants in it.[5] Filming of The World took place on location at the actual Beijing World Park, as well as at an older but similar park, Window of the World, that sometimes served as a stand-in and is located in the southern city of Shenzhen.[7]


As Jia Zhangke's first film made with the consent of the Chinese Film Bureau, many felt that Jia's hand would be unduly restricted by Communist bureaucrats. As it turned out, Jia claimed that the main impact of government approval was the ability to screen abroad and at home without major obstacles; Jia stated that,

"[F]or me personally, government approval did not markedly change my creative process. My basic principle as a filmmaker stayed the same – to protect the independence of my research on society and people. Whether I shoot openly or in secret, my work cannot be influenced because during the shoot I am a filmmaker and nothing else."[6]

Jia attributed the loosening of restrictions as part of the Film Bureau's overall liberalization and acceptance of so-called "outside directors."[5] Outside observers agreed with Jia's assessment, dismissing claims that Jia had compromised his principles and "sold out."[8] One definite result of working within the system, however, was that the film became much easier to produce, as Jia no longer had to worry about interference from the central government or from local officials.[5]

Creative team

Jia Zhangke's's primary creative team once again returned for The World, including cinematographer Yu Lik-wai, sound designer Zhang Yang, and production houses Office Kitano and Lumen Films.[5] Also returning was editor Kong Jinglei, who had worked with Jia on Platform and would later work with Jia on Still Life and 24 City. With his core team in place, Jia also brought in several new young assistant directors.[5]

Unlike Unknown Pleasures, which only had diegetic music, music was an important feature to The World, which featured snippets of the dance performances that were the park's centerpieces. Music played such an important role that the film was almost considered by some to be a musical.[5] Jia brought in the Taiwanese composer Lim Giong, who had previously worked with Hou Hsiao-hsien, to score the film using primarily electronic music.[5] As stated by Jia, the artifice of the electronic music was to "signify the real emptiness of the lives of Tao and her friends. Life’s heaviness fades when confronted by the silky lightness of dance and music."[6] Jia then tied the music to the animated sequences of the film, wherein Tao's inner thoughts were given life, all to create an "Asian digital life."[6]

In the cast, Jia brought back Zhao Tao, who had starred in the Jia's previous ensemble pieces Unknown Pleasures and Platform, and would go on to star in both Still Life and 24 City. As usual, Jia also had a small part for his friend and classmate Wang Hongwei, who has been in nearly all of Jia's films since his starring role in the short film Xiao Shan Going Home in 1995, filmed while both were still attending the Beijing Film Academy.


Domestically, the film was apparently well received among the government officials responsible for its smooth passage through the bureaucratic machine.[8] Abroad, the film was even better received. Four years after its American release, the review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic gave the film rating of 71% (with 30 positive reviews out of 42)[9] and a score of 81 (derived from 23 reviews),[10] respectively. American critics found the film to be a stunning portrayal of the disaffected Chinese society navigating modern urban life with Entertainment Weekly calling the film "a glorious achievement",[11] and The Chicago Reader hailing it as "a tragic, visionary work."[12] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote, after The World's premiere at the New York Film Festival, that the film was a "quietly despairing vision of contemporary China with an almost ethnographic attention to detail" but perhaps had an overly "cavalier attitude to narrative momentum."[4] Variety also gave it a positive review, noting that the film "confirms [Jia] as one of the most interesting and insightful chroniclers of the new China."[2] Criticisms of the film generally revolved around the idea that the film was overly long and meandering (a common criticism of Jia's films, see, for example, Unknown Pleasures). Variety mentioned the overly long complaint in its review, as did the review by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times (stating that "either you will fall into its rhythm, or you will grow restless").[13] Dargis, however, had fewer problems with the film's pace and instead felt that Jia's vision was overly insular, "mesmerized" by World Park with only fleeting glimpses of the city beyond.[4]

Top ten lists

Released in 2005 in the United States, The World appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of that year.

See also


  1. Hu, Brian (2005-02-17). "Asia Pacific Arts: Presenting the World". UCLA Asia Institute. Archived from the original on May 4, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
  2. 1 2 3 Rooney, David (2004-09-10). "The World Review". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  3. Vivarelli, Nick (2004-09-12). "'Drake' takes cake in Venice". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  4. 1 2 3 Dargis, Manohla (2005-07-01). "The World – Caged in a Beijing Theme Park, Yearning For Something More". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Jaffee, Valerie (June 2004). "An Interview with Jia Zhangke". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Jia Zhangke (2005). "Presskit: "Jia Zhangke On"" (PDF). Zeitgeist Films. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  7. Lim, Dennis (2005-06-21). "Lonely Planet". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-01-13.
  8. 1 2 Kraicer, Shelly (2004). "Lost in Time, Lost in Space: Beijing Film Culture in 2004". Cinema-Scope (Vol. 21). Archived from the original on May 12, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  9. "The World (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  10. "The World; Zeitgeist Films". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  11. Schwartzbaum, Lisa (2005-07-06). "Movie Review-The World". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-12-13.
  12. Rosenbaum, Jonathon (2005-07-05). "The World in a Beijing Theme Park". The Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2009-01-13.
  13. Ebert, Roger (2005-07-28). "The World". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2009-01-13.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Metacritic: 2005 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2008-08-01. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
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