Wang Bing's powerful film of survivors of the Chinese Communist Party’s…
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The people in Wang Bing's BITTER MONEY lie in filthy, cramped apartments, stare at their phones for far too long, spend time on their balconies overlooking drab streets in which all the buildings look the same, and work long hours for little pay in noisy and stiflingly hot garment factories.
The city of Huzhou, where the film is shot, is home to 18,000 clothing factories. They are staffed by about 300,000 workers, many of them migrants from rural areas in the surrounding provinces. BITTER MONEY follows a handful of these workers, both at work where they may labor for more than 12 hours a day and in their off-hours, as they hang around shabby dorms drinking, dreaming of home, worrying about getting paid, and trying to decide whether their jobs are worth keeping. In one telling moment, a young woman considers joining a pyramid scheme, saying 'They can't scam me because I don't have any money.'
BITTER MONEY opens with two teenage cousins leaving for Huzhou. The packed train is a portent of things to come, with some passengers forced to sleep in the bathroom, and others involved in conversations on subjects like poisonous gases in the workplace. The factories where the cousins and other workers end up aren't like the massive, futuristic tech assembly lines whose images we've grown accustomed to. Rather, these are mom-and-pop operations in which workers are paid by the piece, and harassment is common.
Wang Bing brings his signature approach to the subject, never offering an overt condemnation of a system that promises a better life to rural youth, but entraps them in a grindingly dull existence. The camera watches carefully, lingering on shots, moving from one conversation to another. More powerful than any commentary, this technique captures the contours of the characters' lives, trapped as they are in abusive relationships, oppressive jobs, and dispiriting surroundings.