Those who are not easily understandable
The Lower People in Pickpocket and What Time Is It There
Since the beginning of the 21st century, most Chinese people in both the mainland of China and Taiwan have been in transition from the old world to the new world. People in that era might fall in love with a person because of some tiny simple things. Even though they might feel deep affection for somebody, very often they did not have opportunity to develop the relationship. The manifestations of the morbid mind and the abnormal love in that period can observed in two different film works of that particular time on the mainland of China and Taiwan. Those two movies are Pickpocket (1998) with the central character Xiao Wu, and What time is it there? (2001) with the protagonist Xiao Kang. Both films display the similarities and differences between sixth generation filmmakers of the mainland China and second generation of cinema artists of Taiwan which performed at the same period of time.
Pickpocket is a movie that was produced in 1998 and directed by Zhangke Jia. The whole film plot is developed around Xiao Wu, who is a “professional” but not successful pickpocket. The story begins when Xiao Wu lies to the ticket seller of the bus saying that he works for the police so that he does not have to buy the bus ticket. As time passed by, Xiao Wu’s best friend and the theft companion Xiao Yong begins to goes into business and becomes a wealthy man. In spite of the former friendship, Xiao Yong tries to avoid getting in touch with Xiao Wu and even does not tell Xiao Wu about his marriage. The fact that Xiao Wu is not invited to his friend’s wedding makes him feel appalling, but he still wants to give Xiao Yong some money to celebrate the wedding and is met by a refusal. After the neglect of the best friend, Xiao Wu goes to one of the karaoke clubs and keeps company with a special singing girl named Meimei. Meimei is different from other girls that satisfy every demand of Xiao Wu. The girl agrees to sing for Xiao Wu only if he settles for singing and dancing together with her. Meimei’s boss is the friend of Xiao Wu, so he lets her go to accompany the quest until it gets dark. Xiao Wu watches Meimei calling her mother and doing the hairdressing. Finally, he falls in love with Meimei just either because he thinks the girl is unique or even without any apparent reason. He wants to see her every day and even buys a ring and a bleeper to get in touch with her easier. However, Meimei disappears and subsequently goes to Taiyuan with a rich man. With a feeling of disappointment, Xiao Wu comes back home and gives this ring to his mother. However, his mother hands the presented ring directly to his brother's fiancé. This makes Xiao Wu feel pressure again and think that his mother doesn’t cherish his present and the family love. At the end of the movie, Xiao Wu is arrested for thief again, while people around him think that he has to receive punishment.
The development of the plot of the Pickpocket around Xiao Wu demonstrates that he does not have any formal job. He falls in love with accompanied singing girl just because she becomes special for him. The reason for Xiao Wu’s affection for Meimei lies probably in the fact that she belongs to one of those unaccepted social groups which he believes to be belong to as well. However, Meimei seems to have lower social status than Xiao Wu does. As a pickpocket, Xiao Wu lives a life without the usual schedule, and he can always find the next target when he has no money to spend. His mind is just about how to get money and spend it. Maybe he used to think about quitting this “job”, but he has no other skills or things he is good at that can earn his living. As the sixth generation of the filmmakers in China, this movie displays the opinion and doubts concerning the old system of organization of the society and looks forward to the new ideology and new society system. This generation is different from the last fifth generation filmmakers. Being the first film of Zhangke Jia, this movie also shows that Mr. Jia is very lonely. At that time he was a young fameless man without any experience in the filmmaking field. Probably due to this the movie’s main character Xiao Wu is very young and has no other job except to steal. In my opinion, Xiao Wu is also very lonely in his mind. He is not a simple nihilism chaser but a person who has no other choice except to lead his usual way of life.
For comparison, What Time Is It There? is a movie that directed by Mingliang Cai in 2001. This movie tells about Xiao Kang and his mother. After the death of Xiao Kang's father, he and his mother are deeply grieving for a long time that cannot release their sadness. Living by selling watches on a bridge in Taiwan, one day Xiao Kang meets Xiangq at that place. She wants to buy the watch on Xiao Kang’s wrist, but he doesn’t want to sell her this watch at first. However, Xiangqi insists on buying the watch on Xiao Kang's wrist since she believes it will bring her good luck. She calls Xiao Kang to persuade him to sell her this watch and finally gets it. Xiao Kang’s mother persists that his father is still in their house, and this thought makes her almost get crazy. When Xiao Kang adjusts every clock to show the same time as in Paris, the place where Xiangqi is heading to, his mother feels that this is done by her departed husband. Then, Xiao Kang’s mother closes all windows not to let any sunshine since a dead person does not like the sun. This part makes the viewers observe how ridiculous and pitiable Xiao Kang's mother is. At the same time, Xiao Kang falls in love with Xiangqi and tries to find something they have in common. Therefore, he wants to get in touch with her by watching movies about Paris and seeing the exact time in Paris all the time. Xiao Kang's mother continues to give his dead father every meal and still thinks that her husband is still alive, so they frequently invite different necromancers to do the traditional Chinese religious ceremonies. Xiao Kang’s mother even gets high tide from a pillow after having an imaginary dinner with her departed husband. Xiangqi’s life in Paris is also horrible. In spite of the communication problem, she also faces the cultural divergence. The majority of people in Paris have a rapid rhythm life, while Xiangqi used to live her life slower. Finally, she sleeps with another woman from Taiwan maybe just because both of them have the emptiness and depression feelings. There is no certain ending of this movie since it ends with Xiangqi sitting on the chair in the park and his father getting a big suitcase out of the water and walking far away.
The whole movie of the What Time Is It There? describes the events of life of three people which happened at the beginning of the 21st century in Taiwan. This period has become the second generation of the cinema makers in Taiwan. Mr. Cai wants this movie to express the desires and aspirations of the urbanites. Although the protagonist Xiao Kang seems unusual, this character represents many people living at the turn of the 20th century and the 21st century, which is the time marked by contradictions and struggle for the change in both technology and ideology. Many scenes of this movie are concentrated on the description of the daily life of Xiao Kang and his mother after his father’s death. In addition to this, the part of movie tells about the life of Xiangqi in Paris after her coming there. Feeling like a square peg in a round hole, she finds it hard to integrate into the Paris’s society. In spite of all the attempts she makes to be like other people who live in Paris, the language problem and the different sense of time still make her almost get crazy.
Xiao Wu and Xiao Kang do not seem to belong to the same kind of people, but they are the classic representatives of many people of that era. The Pickpocket is one of Jia’s most famous art movies that are more successfully distributed oversea than on the mainland China. Therefore, this movie seems to be more suitable for foreign people who would like to understand the situation in China at the turn of the 20th and 21st century. Xiao Wu is the representative of the old society. He has nothing to do except to pickpocket since the lack of knowledge makes the theft the only source of his “income”. The three different aspects of life including friendship, love, and family push Xiao Wu to commit the crime again and to get arrested. Xiao Kang is different from Xiao Wu, since he earns money by selling watches on the bridge. However, Xiao Kang’s life is complicated as well since he lost his father and his mother has a certain disability of her mind because the exceeding sadness for her husband’s loss. The life in Paris becomes Xiao Kang’s dream after the emergence of Xiangqi in his life. Xiao Kang becomes irrational and thinks that changing the time on all the clocks around him can make him live at the same pace as Xiangqi does in Paris. The aspirations of Xiao Kang make him become more and more persistent in his feelings to Xiangqi. Finally, this persistence seems to replace love at all and to serve as a release from the sadness about losing his father.
Social change is one of the most important factors that affected people in that era. They were more lonely and entangled with the reformation of both the society system and the technology. In the Pickpocket, there is a background broadcast that appeared many times, which advocates people who used to do illegal things to surrender themselves to justice. Xiao Wu and many other pickpockets perceive these messages without any feeling of regret. The society in that period encouraged people to break away from the evil and to return to the orthodox way. Unfortunately, Xiao Wu and many other people representing the lowest class do not have the understanding that they should stop doing those bad things. They are not suitable for the norms of the new society and cannot follow its advance. This historical period is also marked by the growing popularity of the colorful television. At the end of the Pickpocket, the random interview of people on the street proves that they all believe that the pickpockets like Xiao Wu should be punished. At the same time, Xiao Wu receives the first and perhaps the last message from Meimei in which she hopes that he will live a good life, which makes the end of the story even more miserable.
Family factor has much influence on people in that era. In Pickpocket, the family factor seems to be not that obvious like in the Xiao Kang’s life in What Time Is It There? The lack of the family love becomes the final reason of the Xiao Wu’s arrest by the police. Even when he is extremely disappointed by Meimei’s disappearance, his mother still shows that she doesn’t care about the ring that Xiao Wu gave her. Xiao Wu lives in the family that lacks love, and the understanding that he cannot find comfort in his family when he is very sad leads him to commit the crime at the end. By comparison with the Xiao Wu's family, Xiao Kang's family is even more deformed. Xiao Kang used to have a complete family whether this family is sweet or not. However, after his father’s death, his mother goes deep into sadness that makes her go crazy. The change of time on all the clocks in the house makes his mother believe that her husband is still present at their home and that he never left. Even without the clock change, Xiao Kang's mother may still find other irrelevant things to prove that his father is still alive. The details of this film tell the viewers that Xiao Kang’s mother prepares three sets of dishware for every meal and talks to herself just like his father is still there. There is not much description about how Xiao Kang treats his mother, but the unhealthy family still has an extremely bad impact on him. Both these characters are to a certain extent involved into a deformed family, and their morbid minds also are closely connected connection with their family problems.
Although this generation seems to be lonely, friendship plays an important role in the process of the formation of the characters’ morbid mind. Xiao Wu used to be the best friend with Xiao Yong, but their friendship is gone since Xiao Yong begins a new life, has his own business and is famous in their town. Xiao Yong even avoids telling Xiao Wu about his marriage, but Xiao Wu still remembers about the agreement at the time when they both were pickpockets to give Xiao Yong a big lucky red bag at his marriage. The sad truth is that they do not belong to the same kind of people anymore, and Xiao Yong refuses to accept the money in the red bag because he believes the money from Xiao Wu is illegal. The friendship among Xiao Wu and Xiao Yong becomes weaker and finally bursts. Xiao Yong's friendship is the first clue of the cue in the whole story line. The loss of the friendship makes Xiao Wu’s mind become morbid and leads to the belief that the girl in the karaoke needs him to take care. As for the Xiao Kang, there is no specific description about somebody’s friendship with him. This also indicates that Xiao Kang lives a lonely life without any real friend. Xiangqi is another leading character in this movie which feels lonely in Paris. She cannot find any warmth from either the opposite sex or the same sex after she slept with Tong Ye near the end of the movie. Loneliness is a common characteristic of people at the turn of the 20th and 21st century. The feeling of being lonely more or less contributes to the morbid spirit of people in that era.
According to Jason McGrath, the sixth generation of the mainland China is a generation that becomes not only "independent", but sometimes "underground" as well. The Pickpocket as the first film work of Zhangke Jia was treated as cynical art movie that was subsequently “banned in China”. The movies that contain some cynical factors, even just part of the work, will get a ban since Chinese government does not want their civilians to receive any negative effects from any movies or artworks. In the past, when China was still in the Civil War and during the Sino-Japanese hostilities period, the only movies that could be allowed to spread were about the praise of the Communist Party. At the time that the working class became dominate in most areas of China, they believe that the Communist Party is the only party that can give them enough food and power. When the time went to the transition of the 20th and 21st century, some people started to admit new changes of the world. Xiao Wu is one of the movie characters that reveal the dark side of the society and the morbid mind of some lower class people. Even if they try to integrate into the new world, it is still too hard for them to change. There are more people out there who have the same story just like Xiao Wu does, but the government did not want more people to know the real circumstances of the lower class people life. Also, the sixth generation of the film makers in the mainland China shows more independence than the preceding fifth generation due to the influence of “the New Documentary Movement led by Wu Wenguang”. Pickpocket as a documentary represents the combination of the traditional east and innovative west techniques that make it get award oversea.
Based on the article “Vive le cinema: A Reading of What Time Is It There", the whole movie is about the loneliness of most of its characters. The most interesting thing about this movie is that the actors in it are members of the real family. According to Aysegul Koc, the father, mother, and Xiao Kang are a real family, and they have already worked together for several times in the past. Another remarkable point that is mentioned by Mr. Aysegul is the relationship among the father, fish, and a cockroach. Xiao Kang’s mother believes that the cockroach and the fish that eats the cockroach all may be the reincarnations of her husband. People who are in a deep grief sometimes think different than normal people do. They would like to chase wind and clutch at shadows to make some groundless connection with the person they missed. The use of the static shots is also very smart because even with the static camera, both the audience and the camera know where they should look at and which the important part of the picture is. Viewers can feel that they are sitting in a place where the story happens and try to see the characters from an immobile place.
The different techniques used in those movies help them to express the different emotions of those characters. In Pickpocket, the camera lens was moved from one to another character among the whole movie. When the viewers watch this movie, they may feel that they are in the story of Xiao Wu and witness the story and the changes in his life. The color tone of the whole movie is close to the real life's tone. The beginning of the movie seems not that formal, when Xiao Wu stands at a bus station and the background sounds seem to be all in a mess. By the time Zhangke Jia was making this movie, he was still a student, so, as he mentioned at the end of the movie, all the characters in it are not professional actors. Moreover, they did not have the expensive professional equipment used for recording the movie and the sounds. On the other hand, this kind of film making may just be the way in which Mr. Jia wanted to show the viewers the exact picture of the real life. The techniques that used in What Time Is It There? are different from the Pickpocket. There are a hundred and one static shots on this movie, and this kind of technique makes people feel they are watching this movie from a static point. The tone of the movie changes with the development of the story. At the beginning, when Xiao Kang’s father does daily things including eating alone and smoking alone, the color of the movie is in dark but warm tone. However, after the father’s death, the color tone of the scenes at home gradually becomes dark and cold since the family was completely burst. Mr. Cai uses those techniques to make this movie look more formal than Mr. Jia’s Pickpocket. Those two different ways of presenting the story make audiences have different feelings about those two movies. The grief of Mr. Cai’s work seems to exceed the sorrow in the work of Mr. Jia. Both of these directors want people from all over the world feel and understand the change in China and the way the lower class people struggled against those huge changes of the turning point.
One can frequently hear of many people born in dysfunctional families that were characterized by having certain morbid mind. Family is one of the most important factors in the formation of children’s spirit as they are growing up. Together with the family, the friendship is also vital for a person’s spiritual development. The lack of friends can make people become lonely and lead to the wired or even morbid mind. Some people with morbid mind may not necessary feel that they have some concrete mental disorder. However, people who do have morbid mind, such as Xiao Wu, Xiao Kang, Xiao Kang’s mother and many other lower class people who had to struggle during their life, will have different spiritual world from those that of the normal people. Love, as the third but very significant element of the development of people’s mind, produces considerable effect on people living at the turn of the 20th and 21st century in China. People in that era think that love is pretty simple and pure, and they even can love and miss a person they may only meet a few times. Families, friendship, and love are indispensable for every human being to live a happy live in this world.
All in all, there are many factors that cause people to have more or less morbid mind at the beginning of the 21st century in China. The social changes make many people feel hard to accord with and feel they are entangled with the choice about how they have to behave to follow the society. The unhealthy family of many people in the lower class has led to the lack of family love. The lack of friends and people who would like to listen to them makes the lower class people struggle against the changes in the society. The loneliness, as the main aspect of people’s live in that era, makes lots of people have morbid mind about how they should continue their life. Therefore, social changes, unhealthy families, lack of friendship, loneliness, and disappointment at love become the main causes of the morbid mind of people in that specific era of China.