Directed by Cathy Yan.
Starring Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl and Zazie Beetz. Streaming exclusively on MUBI.com. 121 mins.
Though we tend to view China as an oppressive authoritarian regime, on the ground the reality of Market Socialism is a light touch authoritarianism; a Big Brother more Davina than Orwell. This look at the Have's and Have Nots in Shanghai shows a society in the thrall of consumerism and a rat race propelled by the same hot air blandishments as the West: You can do it! You are unique! The World is your Oyster! Work hard to get ahead!
Yan's film is slick, entertaining, well-acted but superficial. Its cross-section of Shanghai society - a woman trying to save the family home from developers (Wu); a pig farmer in hock to money lenders (Yang); a waiter (Lee) in love with a pampered rich girl (Li) and an American architect (Rysdahl) re-inventing himself far from home - are stock figures that could be transferred into any metropolis. Jia Zhangke, the director whose films have most effectively communicated the human cost of China's rapid and relentless modernisation is among the film's producers and it feels like an attempt to make a mainstream version of one of his films.
This is the rare case of a film where I actually have some real world insight, having lived in Shanghai for half a year in 2006. And the film's vision of the city as a frantic, glittering anthill full of desperation and people on the make, where you can literally see the history being trodden down, is just exactly like I remember it. But it's nothing more than I remember it. American based writer/ director Yan (Birds of Prey) is giving us an outsider's view with only surface insights.