Unknown Pleasures (Ren xiao yao, S.Korea-Japan-France-China, 2002)

"There's no fuckin' future"

“There’s no fuckin’ future”

Unknown Pleasures is the final part of Jia Zhangke’s ‘Hometown trilogy’ (after Xiao Wu and Platform) and it’s probably the grimmest of the three. If the eponymous character of Xiao Wu is one person being left behind by economic development in China, the teenage protagonists of Unknown Pleasures represent a whole (post-Mao) generation whose lives are being destroyed by wholesale changes in society.

The title, as in Platform, is a reference to a pop song (and, also, tangentially, to Joy Division) and western, and westernised, popular culture infuses the film from the ‘bob’ wig worn by would-be singer Qiao Qiao to the attempted bank robbery – both inspired by Pulp Fiction (1994). Qiao, though, is in the hands of local gangster and her performances are purely commercial; adverts for King Mongolian beer. It’s the logical progression from Platform, where the theatrical troupe start as state-run and end up as a business. In Unknown Pleasures selling is all that matters.

Jia portrays capitalism as soulless; or rather, it eats away at our souls as all we want is money. In China, of course, everything is magnified because of its size, so there are a lot of soulless people ‘growing’ in China. Jia focuses on the losers, but no doubt the winners will also be spiritually empty.

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