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Blind Shaft

1 rating: 4.0
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Director: Li Yang
Genre: Drama
Release Date: January 1, 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Blind Shaft

Part murderous crime story, part social commentary. And as bleak as north China in winter

  • May 22, 2011
Blind Shaft is as dry and cold as the North Chinese coal mines in winter where the story is set. The film is part crime drama, part social commentary. As the murderous intent of the two main characters becomes more complicated, the film builds a solid amount of suspense.
Tang (Li Yixiang) and Song (Wang Shuangbao), two hard, working-class men, have developed a lethal scam that pays well. They befriend a stranger, convince him to play along with the story that he is a relative so that he'll find it easier to get work with them, then they go to a coal mine and get jobs digging deep underground. After a few days or weeks, they murder the man down in the shaft, fake an accident and work a deal with the mine operators. In exchange for not making a fuss about the death of a "relative," they accept a payment and go on their way. The mine managers know that if the police are called in, they'll cost more in bribes than the payment to Tang and Song. As one manager says, "China has a shortage of everything except people."
Tang and Song have pulled this scam several times. Tang, the elder, is a hard case, calculating, without many feelings, and with no sympathy for anyone. "You feel bad for him?" he asks Song about the last man they murdered, a peasant with a wife and a son he was trying to send to school with the wages he was earning. ""But who feels bad for you?"
Song is just as willing to murder, but he has a son, too. Some of the hush money they earn he sends to pay for his son's schooling. After the latest killing, the two spend time in a city using up their money on prostitutes. They spot a 16-year-old kid, fresh from a village, new to the city and trying to find work. Yuan (Wang Baoqiang) is naive, honest and trusting...a perfect candidate. It's easy to convince him to join them and for him to pose as Song's 18-year-old nephew. They head north and find work in a mine.
For the last hour of the film as the three dig with picks and shovels in pitch-black mine shafts, with the only light coming from the small torches on their helmets, Tang moves steadily to kill the boy. Song finds reasons to hold back. He needs to lose his virginity, Song argues; it wouldn't be right to kill him before he has known a woman. "Okay," says Tang, "we'll get him laid today. Tomorrow we'll kill him." We need to give him a dinner celebration with wine before we kill him, Song argues, then we can kill him. All these delays take time. Song has evidently found something about the boy's honesty that is bothering him. Tang simply sees delay. He frowns but then smiles. He agrees to the delays. He is getting impatient with Song.
The end of the movie is quick, brutal, ironic and not entirely unexpected. Considering the chances for a happy future for ill-educated laborers in China, whether they're grown-ups or 16-year-olds, there's probably no other ending possible. The movie is as much a bleak look at the prospects of working-class men and women, especially in the coal mines, as it is a crime story.
Li Yang, who has a background making documentaries, used hand-held cameras to get into the mining operations and to follow the actors around. I thought Blind Shaft was fascinating, with the end depressing and unsettling. Still, it’s probably one of the best movies you’ve never heard of.
Part murderous crime story, part social commentary. And as bleak as north China in winter Part murderous crime story, part social commentary. And as bleak as north China in winter Part murderous crime story, part social commentary. And as bleak as north China in winter

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May 23, 2011
Nice! It kind of reminds me of "How to Drink (or eat) from a rice bowl (or tea cup) or something....I can't remember the exact title, but your descriptions carry a similarity. Fascinating find indeed, knowing how much I like Asian movies, I am glad to hear about this....
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