Blind Shaft

The rite of passage for any film from China (or Iran for that matter) is for the home country to ban it, giving it the type of publicity worldwide that will actually cause more people to watch it. Well, Blind Shaft was banned in China, and after watching it, it's pretty clear why. Writer/director Yang Li, in his first feature, uses a pretty standard crime drama to offer up a scathing indictment on the state of poverty in China, especially rural China. While coastal and urban regions are benefiting greatly from infusions of foreign cash, rural China lingers behind in nearly every respect. Children cannot afford to go to school, so their fathers scour the countryside for jobs. Many take low-paying, dangerous jobs working for large companies in their mines.

Taking the jobs only sets up these men as easy prey for scam artists. The beginning of Blind Shaft has Song Jin Ming (Yi Xiang Li, Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet, Bus 44) and Tang Zhao Yang (Shuang Bao Wang, The Little Chinese Seamstress), two such artists, killing a man and pretending it was an accident. They set their sights on poor men looking for work, go to a new mine, then stage an accident and collect money from the mining company. It is lucrative enough that they have this down to a system. After they collect their money, they move on and find another mine and another target. Their new target is sixteen year-old Yuan Feng Ming (Bao Qiang Wang), a clueless lad looking for work.

Yuan is an easy target. He seems to have emerged from under a rock. He wants to work and send money back so his sister can continue school, and he himself is hoping that his father will return from looking for work to pay for his school. Yuan is so naive that he is stupid. Yet, Song sees a bit of his own song in Yuan, and begins to feel a sort of fatherly love towards him. They bring Yuan along to a new dig, and pretend that Yuan is Song's nephew. As the time nears for them to kill Yuan, Song begins to hesitate at what they have to do.

Yang spends a little too much time decrying the plight of the working poor in China. As a result, plot and characterization suffers. Not only do the miners send money to their families, but the prostitutes they see do too. Working conditions are horrible, and their pay is pitiful. The scenes inside the mines are harrowing. Everything is dark except for the lights on their helmets. It is truly an ominous place. Yang's characterization of Yuan is a little too much. Bao is good, yet he succeeds in getting the audience to dislike him. Yang should have wrote Yuan a little more realistic. This would cause the viewer to feel more sympathetic towards the Yuan character, and make the impending disaster all the more horrible.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 32 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains language, some nudity and sexuality, an R.

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