Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 2, 2004

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Robert J. Lewis
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dube
Phil Nixon
Mark Goldfarb
Robert Rotondo
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Emanuel Pordes
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Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein


reviewed by Lester Pimentel

Director Lang YiThe illegal mines of China produce two items in great quantity: coal and dead miners. Rarely does a week go by without news of a tragic mining accident in which scores die. Blind Shaft, written and directed by Lang Yi, tells the story of two men who exploit the hazardous conditions at these mines. Part exposé, part psychological thriller, Blind Shaft succeeds bravely in the former, but stumbles in the latter.

The movie opens with a menacing shot of coal mounds in the cold grey of daybreak. Waiting for the mines to open, migrant workers Song (Li Yixiang), Tang (Wang Shuangbao), and a worker they’ve just recruited to pose as Tang’s brother are sharing a cigarette before descending into the bowels of a pitch-dark mine. “Do you miss your family?” Song and Tang ask their new colleague. When he begins to talk about the children he’s left behind, he is struck in the head with a shovel. Song and Tang then collapse the mine on him and rush to safety. Feigning emotional distress over their ‘brother’s accidental’ death, they cut a deal with the mine owner who pays them to keep their mouths shut and skip town.

from Blind ShaftTheir pockets lined, they wander into a nearby town where they rendezvous with young, probably underage, prostitutes. We learn that Tang is ruthless and selfish, relishing his exploits at the whorehouse, while Song, is a family man with the stirrings of a conscience. Their differences are thrown into sharper relief by 16-year-old Yuan Fengming, played by Wang Baoqiang. In order to provide for his family after his father’s disappearance, Yang has become an itinerant worker. His unsuspecting mien invites trouble. With promises of good money mining coal in exchange for posing as Song’s nephew, Song and Tang convince a mine owner to hire the three of them. Yuan, whose naiveté is a little overwrought, proves industrious as well as annoying, particularly to Song, who becomes something of a father figure to the young boy. Their bond will complicate the moral equation and foreshadow a somewhat predictable climax: a plot twist in which the bad guys get their just desserts.

Yi brings film noir back from oblivion for this gritty enterprise. The ominous backdrop is supplied by the crumbling coal mines in the remote mountains of China. from Blind ShaftThough the film doesn’t quite work as a thriller, it exposes the appalling loss of life in the mines and provides a searing critique of the breakneck industrialization that drives China’s ever-growing economy, belying the official news about China’s economic miracle. Yuan is emblematic of the contradictions of modern-day Chinese life. He is a dutiful student who wants to go college, but can’t afford it. In a poignant scene, the three of them are in a bazaar when Yuan stops to donate some of his meagre earnings to a young boy so he can attend school; in China, education is the best answer to poverty.

Writer-director Lang Yi offers a layered critique of modern China while avoiding the heavy solemnity his themes seem all too ripe for. Yuan’s sexual immaturity helps to leaven the film. Whether it’s his disastrous first night with a prostitute, or his embarrassing communal bath experience, Yuan emerges as an endearing and fully realized character with whom we sympathize, whose humanity rises above surroundings marked by privation and death.

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