After reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's review and seeing it at the top of his best of list in 2005, I decided check out Zhang Ke Jia's film, The World. While I am not entirely sure it was a total masterpiece The World is definitely one of the more intersting films I have seen recently.
The setting is The World theme park in Bejing. This theme recreates some of the worlds greatest attractions from 5 of the seven continents. You have the Eiffel Tower (at 1/3 it's actual size, complete with elevator, the Taj Mahal, downtown Manhattan complete with Twin Towers and many other world famous landmarks. "Why leave Bejing, when you can see "The World?" The story focuses on the workers at this themepark who also live there, mainly on two young young lovers Tao and Taisheng.
Barely any of the action in this film takes place outside of the themepark. We see a lot of coversations in the cramped dressing quarters where the dancers at the park perpare for shows. Plenty of time is spent on a tram that takes workers and visitors from Paris, to India, to London. For Tao at least her whole World is inside this themepark. At one point she begs Taisheng not to cheat on her, because he is all she has.
The extravagent re-created settings of London, Paris and New York in the background provide a stark contrast to the day to day existence of the poor museum workers. When a plane flies overhead at one point Tao says she never has known anyone who has flown on a real plane. Her entire world truly is only her immediate surroundings. At times the film shifts to animation, usually brought on by a text message to a cell phone having something to do with love or heartbreak. The animation sequences are like dreams and show the characters flying or gallpoing on a horse. As if love is the only dream that can take them away from their immediate surroundings. For some these animation sequences may serve as distraction, to me they only enhanced the story.
The film is nearly 2 1/2 hours but really did not seem overly long, perhaps in part to a shockingly abrupt ending. It's easy to get drawn into the lives of the characters, specifically the love story. And it is safe to say that the setting of the theme park did provide for some shots that will stick in my memory long after viewing the film. Beyond that the film has one of the better scores that I can remember. This was Zhang Ke Jia's first "big budget" picture, and in my mind it succeeded on many levels. It's definitely a film worth checking out, and for me it leaves me wanting to see some of his earlier smaller budget films.