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Bitter Money

Bitter Money

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.

'Award-winning observational documentary maker Wang Bing turns his camera on China's internal migrants and their hardscrabble lives in garment workshops.' - Variety

'His roving study of migrant laborers is a sometimes shocking, sometimes lulling immersion into a usually invisible swath of humanity. Wang's steady gaze gives the sense of people (many of them teenagers) buffeted about by far more powerful forces, and mired in the daily grind. A prize-winner at last year's Venice Film Festival, it's another formidable effort.' - Film Society of Lincoln Center

'With its vivid, extended depiction of migrants wasting their lives away through monotonous labor, BITTER MONEY adds yet another chapter to Wang's patient and painfully heartfelt chronicle of lives left fluttering in the wake of a country's ascent to global supremacy... Wang has produced an absorbing treatise of forgotten lives as lived by individuals in transit. The bodies remain intact, but their spirits are broken.' - The Hollywood Reporter

'A characteristically rough-edged work, both visually and in the sound recording, the film eschews aesthetic finesse to follow its multiple characters where situations demand, to strikingly vivid effect.' - ScreenDaily

'BITTER MONEY hits the sweet spot, balancing several stories without sticking to or staying away from any individual for too long. We have enough information to see these people as individuals, but their plights also come to represent a dire, widespread economic reality.' - Brooklyn Magazine


Main credits

Wang, Bing (film director)
Wang, Bing (editor of moving image work)
Buchman, Sonia (film producer)
Glover, Gladys (film producer)

Other credits

Image, Maeda Yoshitaka [and 4 others]; editing, Dominique Auvray , Wang Bing.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Cinema Studies
Economic Sociology
Labor Studies
dGenerate Films Collection - Documentaries


low wage; migration; economics; China; Huzhou; manufacturing; rural; city; domestic abuse; depression; mental health; "Bitter Money"; dGenerate Films,doc

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