Film

A Comedic Look at How Capitalism Has Warped Chinese History and Culture

In Jia Zhangke’s short film The Hedonists, finally available to stream, laid-off miners become theme park reenactors.

From The Hedonists (2016), dir. Jia Zhangke (image courtesy MUBI)

Jia Zhangke is one of the darlings of the current generation of Chinese filmmakers, and now you can learn why in under half an hour with his delightful short The Hedonists. Originally playing only at select festivals and screenings a few years back, the film is now finally available to stream on MUBI. The short exemplifies Jia’s terrific use of situational irony in conjunction with some vivid aesthetics (here he tries his hand at drone shots, and uses them to terrific effect).

Starting with a group of coal miners in northern China getting laid off, the film then follows a few of them as they seek new employment, ultimately ending up at a kitschy historical recreation park. Jia consistently scrutinizes how Chinese history and art is currently being swallowed whole, digested, and regurgitated in strange new ways by capitalism, and that idea is embodied rather literally here, with salt-of-the-earth workers having to perform a cheap commercial idea of cultural authenticity. Despite that grim context, The Hedonists‘s wry humor adds it to the ranks of great workplace comedies.

The Hedonists is available on MUBI for a limited time.

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