Travel vs. Travail: the Tourism Fetish Unmasked…. …..
Jia Zhangke “World”. (2004, ) is set in an imagined (though never magical) theme park in Beijing, called “World”, but one quite real in “real” life . In the realm of the actual, the storied theme park is to be found in the Las Vegas or Disney style eponymous “Windows of the World” theme park in Shenzhen, which is the set and site one sees in the film. Itself a second (capital) city of symbolic eminence, since it was (along with Pudong, Shanghai) the model of the EDZ “open” trade city understood as the engine of a/the a new generation of export-led expansion based on a new and not-very-livable model (for its staffers): subcontracting of reexports “manufactured” (assembled, finished) by unskilled (mainly female) migrant labor squeezed into company town dormitories.
The “citation” for its part is not arbitrary, but painfully real: the idea and many of twists in the plot come from director Zhang’s “significant other” actress-diva Zhao Tao , 赵涛, who casually and apparently without bitterness or regret told Zhang in some detail of her backstage experiences as a “Show” danceuse in Shenzhen’s first-of-its kind (in China) World Travel theme park, “Window(s) on the World” (“give us a day and we bring you the world”). A story told with the kind of tamped down matter-of-fact darkness that is one of Zhang’s and his co-generationals’ trademarks – in its own way much in half-century-belated resonance with the travelling-troupe backstagerie of Lili, Carousel, perhaps La Strada, a sequence if not a movement that delivered a long overdue nihilist or “street-realist” solar plexus blow to the glamorized bromides of “circus” life that were stock in trade in the 30s, while still holding out hope made genuine by the director’s refusal to supply any whiff of a happy ending.