Unknown Pleasures

At least since I Vitelloni and The Wild One in the 50s, movies about disaffected youth have constituted a kind of subgenre for filmmakers interested in historicizing the present. Distinguished practitioners of this undertaking in Chinese-language cinema include Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang; now they're joined by the much younger Jia Zhang-ke, whose stunning epic Platform (2000) marks him as the most gifted Chinese filmmaker to have emerged in years. His third feature, shot on digital video, isn't an achievement on the same order, though it takes on the same theme, in a story about two unemployed 19-year-olds. Jia's virtuoso long takes, choreographed mise en scene, and feeling for character and behavior place him in a class by himself, yet in China his films have mainly circulated on black-market videos—a point alluded to here in a sequence where his first two features are being sold, along with Pulp Fiction, by a vendor on a bicycle. In Mandarin with subtitles. 113 min.

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