Is there any subtext to Ping disappearing? Also, what is the place that Zhang Jun is stacking bricks at the door, presumably distraught, not finding Ping? Is it her family’s house and he is stacking the bricks because her father won’t tell him where she is? Did, her family send her away because she was arrested for staying with Jun while out of town? Is it here new lover’s/husband’s house?
Also, what are the pictures in the store window that Cui Mingliang looks at early in the film, and Yin Ruijuan looks at, at the end of the film when she sees Mingliang for the first time since he has been back?
Just saw the film, and in addition to Brian’s questions, I have some others:
Who’s the guy Cui Mingliang visits at the shop near the end of the film? Is it his brother? And what’s the meaning of the visit?
Is Cui Mingliang maried to Yin Ruijuan at the end? What’s that all about?
C’mon. Fans of Jia, helps us out. I know there are many of you here!
At the end, Cui Mingliang visits his father, who has moved out of the Cui family home. It’s important because it is Mingliang learning not only that his father has left his mother but is now with another woman (who is the person that greets him at the shop). Thematically it sort of a “you can’t go home again” thing.
Mingliang and Ruijuan are not married. She has married someone else and had a child.
Thanks for the response. But how do you know tha Ruijuan married someone else? The lost shot is of Mingliang sleeping on a chair while Ruijuan is holding a baby, so what’s the meaning of that.
It’s not Mingliang sleeping in the chair.
Are you sure? I could’ve swore that was him. What is your interpretation of the ending?
It is Mingliang sleeping in the chair. I think the ending perfectly fits the tone of the movie. The whole touring was about seeing the outside world and escaping from the boring life his parents have been living. But in the end, he returned home, married his girl and having a kid, living the same boring life that he was trying to escape from. You just can’t escape your destiny, big sigh.
To answer more questions from the original poster:
No, there is no subtext of Ping’s disappearing. She is an impulsive and independent girl. Disappointed by her life and especially her boyfriend after the arrest incident, she just left (or escaped) for new life.
The store and the picture: The store is a small photo studio, the picture is a picture of Yin Ruijuan, apparently taken by the photo studio. It was quite normal in those days that photo studio showcase their customers pictures in the window. For Mingliang and Ruijuan, I think it is also some kind of symbol for old memories.
do you know where and why Zhang Jun is stacking bricks?
im out of town atm, so i cant check my dvd, but i just watched the last scene on the terrible watch instantly netflix copy and it’s very hard to tell, but i dont think that is mingliang.
I’m not sure where Zhang Jun was stacking bricks. Could be any random house. They are terribly drunk. It doesn’t have to make sense.:)
As to whether the guy sleeping in chair is Mingliang or not, I’m absolutely, positively, 110% sure it is mingliang:). He doesn’t wear his glasses, maybe that misled you. Logistically, when mingliang returns from the tour and meets Ruijian and other pals, there is no sign of Ruijian being married. As a matter of fact, in those days, it is unrealistic to see married girl hanging out with her male friends without her husband around. And you can see she and mingliang are still in love just by the way they look and talk to each other.
For those of who live in NYC (you lucky bastard!), there is a retrospective tribute to Jia Zhangke starting next week:
You can see ALL of his films. He will be there at the first screening of “Platform”.
NYC is 4 hour’s drive from my home. Back in old days I would jump in the car in a heartbeat. But now I have a wife and baby to take care of (just like Mingliang in the end, LOL:)).
not all of his films, too bad they aren’t showing the original 193 min cut of Platform like they did at the Cinematheque Ontario.
Really? I think that’s all of his films listed there, even including all the short ones. What is missing?
When New Yorker went bankruptcy the first thing came to my mind was, who’s picking up the right for “Platform” and “Unknown Pleasures”? I dearly dearly wish Criterion would do that. One can only dream…
hmm, Yes, watching it now and it does appear to be Mingliang. He’s wearing the same clothes as the previous scene.
In the scene with them together before this last scene, it’s clear that they have still have very strong feelings for each other but it still give the sense that they won’t end up together, which fits with the movie’s theme of life not living up to one’s dreams. It’s actually very surprising that the purpose of the last shot is to kind of say “hey, guess what they did get together.” Which is probably why it never occurred to me that that the guy in the chair could be Mingliang. It’s a disarmingly optimistic note to end on, given the themes and character arcs of the rest of the film. So much so that now I am wondering if this last shot is some subjective fantasy shot for Mingliang. The shot directly before is him looking off in the distance, wearing the same clothes, with an overlap in the background sound.
And, I just watched it again, and he is NOT wearing the same clothes. And now I’m leaning again towards in not being the same character.
Nah, it’s totally him. Wearing the same clothes as in the shop, but not the blue sweater in the previous shot of him smoking.
Columbiatch, I’ve read that the longer cut has a different ending, can you comment on that?
Alright, to clear some things up…
The original cut of the film was 210 minutes. The original festival cut of the film is 193 minutes, and the DVD cut (and Jia’s preferred version of the film) is 150 minutes.
To quote Michael Berry:
“Platform is epic not only in historical scope and physical terrain, but also in terms of film’s length. It is Jia Zhangke’s single longest film to date and the first cut clocked in at 210-minutes. Jia eventually cut twenty minutes off the running time, submitting a 190-minute version to the Venice International Film Festival. The version that most audiences have seen, however, is the 150-minute cut, which was the version used for international theatrical and DVD release, it is also the director’s preferred cut. The primary difference between the final cut and the various extended versions lies in the removal of numerous scenes (or portions of scenes) that further elucidate the motivations behind various characters’ actions. The final cut therefore features an overall aesthetic and cinematic language that is significantly more subtle, understated and difficult. Certain plot details that are very clearly delineated in the longer versions, need to be extracted from subtle hints in dialogue, or, in many cases, simply inferred from context. The result is significantly different viewing experiences between the different cuts, with the original version following much more closely traditional conventions of film narrative…”
So, in the longer version things like how Yin Ruijuan became a tax agent are given to us, and Cui Mingliang and Li Xiaojuan’s affair and break-up are made clear.
The effect of the shorter cut is to force the audience into making decisions. Why did Zhong Ping leave? She obviously had a very tumultuous relationship with Zhang Jun and, as was stated before, was a modern woman. We can infer that she left because she felt suffocated. We can also infer that the stacking of the bricks is a symbolic act. They are, “art workers, no manual labour.” This work is melancholic… a symbol of longing for Zhong Ping. The house is of little importance.
“In the scene with them together before this last scene, it’s clear that they have still have very strong feelings for each other but it still give the sense that they won’t end up together, which fits with the movie’s theme of life not living up to one’s dreams. It’s actually very surprising that the purpose of the last shot is to kind of say ‘hey, guess what they did get together.’ Which is probably why it never occurred to me that that the guy in the chair could be Mingliang. It’s a disarmingly optimistic note to end on, given the themes and character arcs of the rest of the film.”
I don’t really think the ending is optimistic at all, really. The ending is about settling. Both Cui and Yin have to settle into a normal everyday life… they aren’t, “art workers” anymore. They aren’t the young people who once dreamed of being something more than their parents (more than peasants… manual laborers). They were unable to keep up with the rapid economic, and social upheaval the 1980’s in China represents. They were unequipped for it, and therefore were forced to settle into simple, domestic, and boring lives (Yin much sooner than Cui).
The biggest evidence of this is Cui and Yin’s final conversation in the film. They speak about the past, and Zhong Ping, and everything of their youth. They reminisce, and are totally unable to face their relationship. They’re eventual pairing is fraught with melancholy. The television that once captivated the entire village is now used for background noise for an afternoon nap while a mother holds on to her child. One, also, cannot help but recognize the wall in the background. It was where Cui and Yin first talked (Yin was being lectured by her father and saw Cui on the wall and went to go meet him). It was also the wall that Yin looked upon as her friends left Fenyang. One cannot help but feel that this wall that brought the two together in the beginning of the film is now holding them in at the end. Suffocating them as this simple life suffocated Zhong Ping.
We can’t go back, and find the happiness of youth, even if we do find what we actually wanted in the first place.
So, in your opinion, is the last shot of Cui and Yin Ruijuan?
Thanks for the information, btw.
Also, it’s good to see you posting again!
Absolutely! I didn’t even know it was in contention until I read this thread. I just re-watched the film yesterday and it is absolutely Cui Mingliang with Yin Ruijuan and child around two years after Cui and the dance troupe moves back to Fenyang… (and two years after the Tienanmen Square incident).
It’s the entire point of the film and the summing up of the entirety of the emotional subtext carried throughout for 2 1/2 hours. They finally end up together, but it’s not what it would have been. There’s a sense that they’re being held in by the very metaphorical wall that looms over the film from it’s first appearance to its last in the very last shot.
So how did you like the film? (It sounds like you liked it quite a bit.)
I’m pretty ambivalent, although I’m leaning more on the negative side. I did like some some of the scenes (the wall scene between Cui and Yin that begins with Cui on a bike) and the way Jia develops his characters through these short snippets in time. But I don’t think it’s enough for me to get really excited about the film or Jia as a director.
The other problem for me was my lack of understanding of Chinese culture and history, particularly during the time the film takes place. I just feel like Chinese viewers would (or could) have a radically different understanding of the film than I do.
Well, Jia has stated directly that he makes films in hopes of getting a Chinese audience to view it (rarely, in art, though, is the intended audience the actual audience). The film is very obviously a film about Chinese history, but the importance of the film cannot be overstated. Jia literally re-invented the “realist” film with this one.
What one needs to know from a historical perspective:
1. 1979 (the year the film begins) was the year the one-child policy was instituted.
2. The 1980’s were ruled by Deng Xiaoping who moved China into a more free-market economic system.
3. 1984 was the 35th anniversary of the P.R.C..
4. The Tienanmen Square Incident took place in 1989.
5. After Mao Zedong’s death, in 1976, he had handpicked a successor named Hua Goufeng. He was ousted by Deng Xiaoping in 1981. Hua Guofeng has been written out of the textbooks in the P.R.C., who prefer a cleaner succession after Mao.
That’s really the most important thing about Chinese history one needs to know beforehand. The rest of the film is pretty straightforward in terms of the cultural changes present.
The film is essentially about how the state makes decisions that effect every facet of life. The premise of the film, though, is not that the state changes life drastically, but subtly. And that these subtle changes are actual what mark one generation from the next.
For example, Cui Mingliang’s father leaves his mother and begins to live with a mistress in a store by the highway in the end of the film. This is the same man that criticized his sons for wearing bellbottoms, not doing his kind of work, and for reading comic books about Parisian prostitutes. This man has had more romantic success than anyone in the film thanks, mostly, to the changes instituted by Deng Xiaoping. It’s not just the more open attitude of the new generation, or any of the obvious indicators, that makes one generation differ from the next, but the subtle things we all normally overlook, but this film exceeds in exploring.
Let’s consider the wall, for a moment, and examine the five scenes in which it makes an appearance.
1. After Yin and Cui leave the theatre in which Raj Kapoor’s Awaara is being played Cui begins to climb to the top of the wall. We then see Yin in her apartment looking out the apartment window while being lectured by her father on why she should not hang around Cui Mingliang. Another cut back to the wall where Cui is standing on the top of the wall after a brief time Yin walks into the frame and Cui says, “Coincidence.”
Yin responds, “No, I saw you out my window.”
They then walk off. Another cut to the bottom of the wall where Yin and Cui are talking about Zhong Ping and Zhang Jun (avoiding their own feelings for each other) and eventually Cui mentions Yin’s father calling him a “dictator”, while Yin responds meekly with, “don’t say that.” In the middle of this the camera has been totally static and from an extreme distance. The camera is highlighting the emotional distance between these characters. We are unable to make out their physical features just as they are unable to understand the others emotional feelings.
2. The scene Jazzaloha mentioned earlier. At the top of the wall we see Yin and Cui enter (Cui on a bike). Cui gets off his bike and Yin and Cui walk to a part of the wall in which the camera can only ever see one of them at a time. Again, Jia highlights these characters emotional distance as they again speak of Yin’s father, and Cui musters up the courage to actually discuss their relationship, but instead of highlighting it through the camera’s distance from the characters (it’s a medium-long shot instead of an extreme long shot) Jia highlights it through framing. Again, we are denied reaction shots, we are denied facial features, we are denied clean close-ups. We must infer, just as they must do.
3. The break-up. In the scene directly previous we see Zhong Ping telling Cui Mingliang to confront Yin on her feelings for him and he cuts his hand on a piece of glass (a self-inflicted wound). The camera is in a long shot as Yin and Cui meet and we see Cui’s hand bandaged. Yin again mentions her father as a reason why she thinks she and Cui will not work as a couple, “my father has never liked you.” Cui walks off and the camera follows Yin as she walks underneath the wall. The camera then cuts to the top of the wall to Cui staring at Yin’s apartment (which is just across from the wall), lost in thought.
4. The dance and theatre troupe is leaving Fenyang. The troupe has been privatized and must make money on its own to survive. Yin, yet again, has said her father is sick and she can not follow the troupe out of Fenyang. We see, in a direct reversal of the last time we saw the wall with Cui on it staring at Yin’s apartment, a shot of Yin from behind standing in her apartment staring at the wall. If we have not figured out what the wall is by now it is made absolutely evident in this shot. The wall was built to keep people out. It is an authority figure. Who else, who is constantly mentioned when people are around the wall, is an authority figure? Yin’s father, both as a parent (personal), and as a police officer (state).
Jia never lets us forget the effect the state has on us. Even in decisions not made directly by it it still changes the course of lives of its citizens.
5. The final shot in the film, in the background. The father is now dead, though so the meaning of this wall must have changed slightly. Let’s consider the surroundings; this is the apartment in which Yin’s father and mother lived and raised their daughter. Cui and Yin are now raising their child in the exact same place (figuratively, and very literally) in the exact same place they were raised. This is exactly what this generation fought against. A generation that moved away from manual labour for, “art work,” that wore bellbottoms, perms, bright colours (as opposed to the drab colours of Mao’s era), and long hair, and listened to rock n’ roll. This the generation that asserted their individuality in direct opposition of the old Mao era doctrine of “collectivism”. This is the generation that didn’t want to end up where their parents were… but they wound up there all the same.
So, the wall is now not keeping foreign invaders out, but its citizens in. It is the unchanged, among constant change. It is the simple design that has lasted numerous lifetimes among a world of shallow materialism. It is, within the confines of the film, a complex, ever-changing (if only ever-so-slightly) symbolic device even as it itself never changes. (Maybe the stacking of the bricks now has a bit more importance? If Zhang is indeed stacking the bricks out of Zhong’s house it is his feeble, and late attempt to pin her in to Fenyang, and to himself?)
Another example of how the film uses juxtapositions, and multiple references and symbols to posit a point:
In one of the most important scenes of the film we see Zhong Ping, Troupe leader Xu, Zhang Jun, and Cui Mingliang (offscreen at the beginning of the shot) in a hospital. In the beginning of the scene the characters talk about the hospital and how it shows how advanced China is becoming. We have recently been told it’s the 35th anniversary of the P.R.C. (1984), although very recently we also heard of the new practice of birth control, and a one-child demonstration on the streets (“we only need one child”) (meaning the film recently jumped five years into the future… again, the subtle changes indicate this, but the film itself doesn’t offer us any obvious indications… fashions, appearance, life itself doesn’t really change drastically, even as it seems to).
A doctor walks into the scene and takes Zhong Ping away to get an abortion. The three remaining characters then begin talking about the new and imminent privatization of the troupe. There are numerous readings of this scene, but the most interesting one to me is what the conversation means in relation to the events on-screen. The Government that once offered jobs, shelter, clothing, food, health care, all of the essentials of life has very literally aborted this responsibility and left its citizens to fend for themselves. They’ve cut themselves off from the old socialist workings of the past.
The doctor then walks into the frame again and says Zhong doesn’t want the abortion. Zhang runs to her and yells at her. She slaps him and screams, “Fuck you!”
Again the linking of complex emotional events is intrinsically linked to complex political, economic, and social events surrounding the film.
What does this matter to us; Westerners already accustomed to many of things that are brand new to the Chinese in the 1980’s?
I’m reminded of the scene in which Han Sanming (the star of the later masterpiece Still Life, and Jia Zhangke’s actual cousin) runs up to the leaving dance troupe and tells his cousin in the film, Cui Mingliang, to, “take this 5 yuan, and tell Wenying [his sister] to go to University and never come back here.”
My personal reaction to this scene, upon review, was a genuine overflow of emotion. I cried. This singular line is not only the summing up of the feelings of every character in this film, but of every single generations hope for the next. That they build upon what was already there for them and make their lives better for themselves and their children. This not only makes the ending all the more tragic in that we see that this generation did not build upon the previous, despite all of the changes they went through, because the Government never prepared this generation for the changes that were to occur. BUT it makes the film all the more relevant to the U.S. and most of the world’s current generation. Mine will be the first generation to not live more prosperously than my parents did (more than likely).
This is absolutely a universal film in a completely personal setting full of melancholic remembrances of Jia’s youth and complex political, cultural, and social markings of the time and of our time. And in that regard it is one of the most important films of the last few decades.
(I love the film, by the way)
Terrific response, Dax.
Here are some of my comments/response:
Jia literally re-invented the “realist” film with this one.
I’m assuming you’re referring to neo-realism? In what way has the film reinvented “realist” cinema?
What one needs to know from a historical perspective:…
I basically knew those things going in, but my sense is that one needs to know more subtle things about the society, cultural and history of the times. It doesn’t surprise that Jia made this for a Chinese audience because the film feels like it’s a social critique/commentary on China—but it assumes that the audience will understand more subtle aspects of Chinese society that would be common knowledge to Chinese citizens.
(Btw, why was the story of Hua Guofeng significant?)
The film is essentially about how the state makes decisions that effect every facet of life.
I don’t know if I agree with this. To me, the film seems to be about the massive social forces—not just the government—changing Chinese society in the 80s—and the way the individuals that get caught up in these forces. People in Jia’s films feel like powerless specks swept up in these larger social forces. I think his style of storytelling—the long shots where you can’t really see the individuals; showing snippets from the characters’ lives/relationships, etc.—all reinforce this feeling for me. And it’s this style that I find somewhat distinctive in Jia’s filmmaking.
Imo, Jia seems to be a social commentator of China, specifically. One of the main objectives of his films seems to be a cautionary look at capitalism. (Here’s where knowledge of Chinese culture and society could be important. For example, what has been the attitude towards modernization and capitalism in China in the 80s until now? If the government and leaders have been giving this unambiguous presentation of liberalizing their economy, then Jia’s films could definitely be seen as a counter-argument or balancing of this view.)
The lessons seem pretty old to a Westerner like myself—and I think this is partly why I’m not so enthusiastic about this film (and Jia’s other films in general). You asked, "What does this matter to us; Westerners already accustomed to many of things that are brand new to the Chinese in the 1980’s?, and I guess I’m not entirely satisfied with your response, namely the scene where Han Sanming passes on money to his sister and the message.
It seems like a pretty typical message of someone living in a poor small-town rural area wanting a younger generation to get a better life. That’s an age old type of sentiment, and I’m not sure how it specifically applies to the times we live in now.
The premise of the film, though, is not that the state changes life drastically, but subtly.
Again, I’m not sure I agree with this—although I’m not entirely clear on what you mean by “subtly.” I think Jia shows the effects on people in subtle ways, but I don’t know if I would say the state doesn’t change life drastically.
Re: the Wall as symbol/metaphor
I’ll have to think more about your interpretation, but I do feel like Jia uses symbols in this way (in the The World it’s the amusement park and airplanes, for example; in Still Life the buildings and the river/dam).
Btw, you do know about the Jia thread that should be coming up in the garage section, right? I hope you actively participate in that.
“To me, the film seems to be about the massive social forces—not just the government—changing Chinese society in the 80s—and the way the individuals that get caught up in these forces.”
The entire premise of the film, however, is how these, “massive social forces” are only allowed and created because of the Government. If Deng Xiaoping had not made the open door policy of the 1980’s and allowed certain areas to prosper before others (port towns like Guangzhou saw the benefit of these policies before somewhere like Fenyang) then Zhang Jun’s aunt in Guangzhou does not send him bellbottoms and no one in Fenyang begins copying that fad. If there is not the one child policy Zhong Ping cannot get an abortion and Zhang Jun and Zhong Ping have to get married and never experience anything outside Fenyang. If the Government doesn’t allow for more music to make it into China then Canto-pop and Taiwanese-pop never becomes popular and the youth in China don’t become enamored by people like Zhang Di with his form of Chinese rock.
Look at the very set-up of the film. We are watching a song-and-dance troupe. This group entertains the people of China. How do they do it in the beginning of the film? The tell the story of going to Mao Zedong’s birthplace (The Train to Shaoshan). They play traditional instruments and play state sponsored music and plays. The open door policy forced them to privatize, though, and they thus modernize and start playing covers of modern rock songs (the title song, Platform… most notably).
That’s the entire premise of the film. Conversely, if they U.S. wasn’t the open nation it was, if it sealed itself off in the 20th century we never would have seen the British invasion, or Jackie Chan, or Billy Wilder, or what have you. In some regard the government’s policy allows for social and popular forces to grow.
I mean it’s fine to disagree with me, but I provided examples from the film itself that show what I’m talking about. The state’s control is prevalent in almost every scene. We can’t really talk about the film if I’m just providing examples of scenes and you’re just saying you disagree.
“Btw, why was the story of Hua Guofeng significant?”
There’s a sign early on in the film that’s a political slogan from Hua Guofeng. Most films that would be set in the late 70’s would have just made Deng Xiaoping the leader, but Jia’s authenticity is important in analyzing the film.
“I’m assuming you’re referring to neo-realism? In what way has the film reinvented “realist” cinema?”
No, not just neorealism. It’s the melding of the Japanese shomen-geki, the neorealist film, ‘Bressonian’ realism, and Taiwan New-wave. All of these are enormous influences on the film, but Jia alters all of them to his design.
The narrative approach of neorealism, the ‘flat’ acting of Bresson, the observational model of Ozu, and the aesthetic and historical approach of the New-Wave. This is what the film contains in a technical sense, and at the same time the film “literally reinvents” all of these concepts and ideas on filmmaking.
“It seems like a pretty typical message of someone living in a poor small-town rural area wanting a younger generation to get a better life. That’s an age old type of sentiment, and I’m not sure how it specifically applies to the times we live in now.”
Well, are we in living in a society? If we are then that sentiment is still absolutely relevant. Maybe it’s easy to say it doesn’t apply to such a modern society, but that’s just plain not true. The minute this nation gives up this sentiment is the minute we stop progressing in every facet of life. A film doesn’t necessarily have to say something completely new (in fact no film ever has) to be profound or relevant.
First, let me just clarify that I think government is a huge social force in China—both in the past and currently. However, I still disagree with the notion that “The entire premise of the film, however, is how these, “massive social forces” are only allowed and created because of the Government.” Are you saying that the market forces which cause the performance troop to adopt different music/dances are “created” by the government? What about the fashion and the pop music itself? Sure, the Chinese government opened up their economy and country to other forces, but these other forces were non-governmental ones. To me, what is documented in the film is the way Western-Capitalist influences enter and change a society that was almost completely dominated and controlled by the government.
Re: the message of wanting the next generation to get a bet life.
I’m not saying this is not an important human impulse or relevant to today. I guess, what I’m saying is that this message is a.) nothing new; b.) I don’t feel like that message is not having the kind of impact on me that I think it should (i.e. it feels stale). I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve seen and heard this “message” in other films/novels, and I don’t feel like Jia is presenting in a way that’s making this fresh and relevant to the times.
Part of me feel like this is because his films are directed primarily towards a Chinese audience—i.e. people whose experience of massive industrialization and capitalization of markets for the first time. These issues are new to them, especially given that Jia creating a Chinese context for these “messages.”
Re: adaptation of a realism
I’m not familiar with some of those other styles, so I don’t think I can comment intelligently comment. (Just so you know, I’m not ignoring that point.)
“Are you saying that the market forces which cause the performance troop to adopt different music/dances are ‘created’ by the government?”
Yes, precisely. The government forced the troupe to privatize and the government’s allowance of music to permeate China allowed pop music to prosper, thus creating the new persona for the troupe.
“What about the fashion and the pop music itself?”
In the past the government provided both clothing and entertainment for the people of China. There was absolutely no chance of hearing Teresa Teng’s songs because the government didn’t allow it. It was only because the government opened themselves economically and socially that fashion and pop music were also opened.
“To me, what is documented in the film is the way Western-Capitalist influences enter and change a society that was almost completely dominated and controlled by the government.”
Well, that is true. And it speaks to Jia’s intensely crafted mis en scene that he’s depicting both (and a multitude of other themes), ironically. As in Xiao Wu (with a crushed coke can representing the evil Capitalist forces), and Unknown Pleasures (with a coke (again) being drunk as one of lead’s believes the U.S. is attacking), Jia constantly mixes the present form of materialist capitalism and the past of Confucian/Buddhist ideals mixed with socialist economics (and anti-U.S. rhetoric).
“I guess, what I’m saying is that this message is a.) nothing new; b.) I don’t feel like that message is not having the kind of impact on me that I think it should (i.e. it feels stale).”
1. Nothing in cinema is new. Not a single idea presented in any art form of the last few centuries has been new. Not in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, or anywhere in the world. The foundation and message of every film has been done countless of other times before in countless other forms.
2. That’s not really the only message of the film. It’s more complex than that, and can be interpreted in dozens of manners. This is merely a specific reading of the emotional aspect of the film.
3. Don’t give up on the film. The first time I saw it I was lukewarm (as was Wo-wo) on it. It takes time, I think. Re-watch it in a year or so and see how you feel then. You may be surprised (I’ve seen it three times and feel I only really began to peel back its tons of layers this last time).
“Part of me feel like this is because his films are directed primarily towards a Chinese audience…”
Maybe that’s true, but it’s not really a criticism of the film. Are there not thousands of American films that were made specifically for American audiences? Does that lessen the films? Of course not.
If one looks there is a specific, personal, and universal message in all great pieces of art and Platform is no exception. The film may be mostly geared towards a Chinese audience, but the overall arc of the story couldn’t be more universal (which is actually another thing you criticized the film for… it’s specifically Chinese, but the story feels like its been told too many times in other (presumably non-Chinese) films and novels? How does that make sense?).
You can’t go home again. Life is a journey. Your dreams alone don’t offer happiness. Those are themes that touch everyone’s life on earth and if you can’t see those being pointed to in the film then you’re really not looking, I’m sorry to say.
Dax said, “Well, that is true. And it speaks to Jia’s intensely crafted mis en scene that he’s depicting both (and a multitude of other themes), ironically.”
Well, this is the reason I said the film is not just about government’s influence on society, but social forces in general. All the Jia films I’ve seen are like this, although, to be sure, the government is the major, if not primary, force changing society.
“Are there not thousands of American films that were made specifically for American audiences? Does that lessen the films? Of course not.”
Well, in a objective sense, making a film for a specific audience shouldn’t lessen it. But if you’re someone outside of that audience and the film doesn’t impact you, what should your position be? I mean, I can appreciate some of the filmmaking, but the characters, their stories and the ideas of the films don’t really do much for me. But I’m not totally closed to changing my mind on this.
“The film may be mostly geared towards a Chinese audience, but the overall arc of the story couldn’t be more universal (which is actually another thing you criticized the film for… it’s specifically Chinese, but the story feels like its been told too many times in other (presumably non-Chinese) films and novels? How does that make sense?).”
As you mentioned, there aren’t any new ideas. What makes them rresh is a reconfiguring and recontextualizing of those ideas into contemporary world/society. For example, the ideas in Stars Wars and Matrix aren’t new, but their placed in a different context, which adds different facets to age old ideas/themes. With Jia’s films (btw, I think the best recontextualizing Jia does is in The World), I think like the recontextualizing is very specfic to Chinese—or at least the recontextualizing fails to “freshen” up the age old themes/ideas for me. (Note: I don’t know Chinese viewers would find these ideas re-freshed or not; they may have the same reaction, or they may not.)
Btw, one of the bigger themes or “message” I get from the film is that no matter what these large social changes are, the average person sort of still lives the same life, deals with the same issues, and my sense is that Jia’s films serve to counter ideas of the benefits of progress ostensibly promulgated by the Chinese government. (Most of the characters in Jia’s films are not happy at the beginning or ending of the films—The World, Still Life, Uknown Pleasures and, to a lesser extent, Platform.)
Finally, I haven’t closed myself off to the film, but this is where I’m at at this point in time.
“For example, the ideas in Stars Wars and Matrix aren’t new, but their placed in a different context, which adds different facets to age old ideas/themes.”
Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but I could not disagree with that statement more. Star Wars and The Matrix tell the exact same stories we’ve heard over and over and the only actual difference is the surface world in which they’re presented. The only difference between ancient Greek stories about the journey and Star Wars is the Greek tale presumably takes place in and around Greece (or their conception of the world around them) and Star Wars is in a ‘galaxy far, far away’. The story itself is told in the exact same format and actually makes the films feel very tired upon re-watching.
However, Jia’s film is a radical reworking of the journey story. He’s not telling it about someone that changes everything (like Luke, or Odysseus) and makes the world a better, or worse place, but rather tells a tale about people who are caught up in the world of change, but they have no way of changing anything around them (only to attempt to keep up) and don’t even have the ability to fully contextualize the changes taking place (Cui says in the very beginning of the film he’s never even seen a train and yet he’s about to go through the biggest economic, social, political, and cultural change China has ever seen (they basically condense what took the U.S. a century to do in a decade)).
By telling classic stories and themes in a manner it hasn’t been told that often before (focusing on both mass social change (and the epic historical scope of this time period) and quotidian, everyday details) Jia actually totally reworks these thematic elements; in a manner Lucas or the Wachowski bros. could have only ever dreamed of.
“But if you’re someone outside of that audience and the film doesn’t impact you, what should your position be?”
I would actually say you’re not really actively watching the film. You and I both agree the film contains universal themes and if one is not seeing them they may just not be paying attention. I’m not saying that the film has to be loved by everyone, but rather that even if the film were made only for Chinese viewers it’s just an excuse to say the Chinese have nothing to do with my life so their stories cannot move, or impact me. That’s just patently untrue. The Chinese live essentially the same lives everyone does and it just takes an openness in being moved to see this.
I’m glad you haven’t closed yourself off to the film. If you re-watch the film in a year and still don’t like it then it’s just not for you and that’s fine, but I think it’s always a good idea to give a film a second try (whether you loved it, hated it, or felt nothing for it at all).