Unknown Pleasures

Unknown Pleasures

2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5

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Unknown Pleasures, Jia Zhang-ke’s haunting follow-up to Platform, tracks various stages of underdevelopment. In an impoverished area of China, two disenchanted teenagers struggle with unemployment and raging libidos: Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) falls in love with Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao), a singer-prostitute who promotes Mongolian King liquor for her boyfriend-pimp, and his friend Bin Bin (Zhao Wei Wei) struggles against depression and his nagging mother. Shot on digital video and staged in real time, the film achieves an unprecedented level of docu-realism. Jia envisions a hopeful period of social transition despite the overwhelming sense of devastation (a group of Datong textile mill workers celebrate Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympics and the riches it promises). Hope builds even as various apartment complexes fall to the ground; this remote, post-apocalyptic area of China could be the last place on Earth. Culture here is displaced into memory and commodified by an American pop ethos that infiltrates the provincial landscape via techno clubs and black markets. This threat is a pervasive (see Jia’s reference to America’s infiltration of Chinese airspace), functioning for the film’s depressed characters as an escape mechanism. In the end, the incessant Tarantino references are no different than Bin Bin’s fascination with the Monkey King and Qiao Qiao’s evocation of Taoist master Zhuangzi’s “Dreams of a Butterfly.” These are their points of departure. Despite the film’s overwhelming sadness, its better-than-here hopelessness pokes through. No doubt dreaming of better places, Xiao Ji rides his motorcycle out of the film’s suffocating milieu. Lighting crashes and his motorcycle breaks down on cue. Rather than head back to town, he hitches a ride from a stranger and perseveres.

Image/Sound

By the looks of First Run’s Merci Pour Le Chocolat DVD, Image’s I’m Going Home disc, and now this New Yorker Video edition of Unknown Pleasures, you’d never know these excellent films were actually some of the better-looking films of their respective years. The bleak Unknown Pleasures was meant to evoke the desolation of a generation, but this hazy video transfer is inexcusably crummy. Edge enhancement is constant throughout, and though blacks are halfway decent, the noise throughout suggests the surface of dirty fish water. Comparatively, the Mandarin audio track is a godsend.

Extras

Just the film’s remarkable trailer.

Overall

If you don’t buy this DVD for the lousy video transfer, at least buy it for the critics quoted on the cover (wink, wink).

Image 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Sound 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Extras 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Overall 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Specifications
  • DVD-Video
  • Single-Layer Disc
  • Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • Mandarin 2.0 Surround
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • English Subtitles
  • Special Features
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Buy
    DVD
    Release Date
    March 16, 2004
    Distributor
    New Yorker Video
    Runtime
    113 min
    Rating
    NR
    Year
    2002
    Director
    Jia Zhang-ke
    Screenwriter
    Jia Zhang-ke
    Cast
    Wang Hongwei, Wu Qiong, Zhao Tao, Zhao Wei Wei, Zhou Oing Feng