Review: Blind Shaft (2003)

Directed by:

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

OK, I have to admit to not really paying much attention to the blurb before walking into this one. Latest flick from China that’s sitting on the banned list? Cool. Has some awards around some other film festivals? Even better.

So there I am watching the beginning of the movie knowing it had something to do with mining and having an expectation akin to a disaster movie with the tragedy of lives lost due to poor mining standards like some bad telemovie. The opening scene where a bunch of miners walk into a mine at the crack of dawn under some cursory security check and minimal safety equipment only seems to encourage this. 10 minutes later, I find myself completely wrong and instead actually sit back and enjoy the film.

Under the assumption that you have actually read the synopsis, I think I can safely say this is a heist film involving a simple scam by two partners in crime, Song and Tang, who get by relying upon the corruption of the people running these mines and the minimal communication and isolation amongst them all. The minimal safety concerns, the desperate unemployment in China’s west and processes of the emerging free market all kind of gives you an idea of some of the reasons Beijing may be frowning upon Blind Shaft.

Fortunately for us, our decadent, imperialistic capitalist society allows us to watch this film in all its glory and for that you can call me a reactive anti-revolutionary pig and I’ll happily admit to it. Because really, despite the harshness of the setting, this film isn’t heavy handed in presenting a political view but instead presents a great story with some damn solid characters.

Admittedly there’s nothing ground breaking with the narrative as you often come across conflicts between people doing bad things with the right intentions versus the pure bastards in a lot of films but it doesn’t mean the story is any less significant or interesting. And the fact that such stories do not present things in a black and white manner forcing you to think can only be good for you.

As a side note, I suppose kudos has to be given to Li Yang for risking his life in making this film by actually making shots within real mines and the fact that only one of the central characters was a professional actor. But really these things don’t affect how worthwhile it is to go see this anyway. If it were a terible film and the director risked his life for it, well then, that would be rather poor judgement. Fortunately this is not the case. Instead, we get a fresh view on what life is like on the inland away from the quickly developing coast and how, though the country may be changing, some places are slower to take things on than others. If anything, the naturalness of the film lends a lot of credence to cinema as a recording device as much as an extension of the narrative and is one of the most striking features about Blind Shaft.

So really Blind Shaft presents a China that lags behind the areas we see more often on the big screen but is a story that is just as significant to the country as any other.

8 dead miners out of 10.
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