Keimena #8: Ku Qian (Bitter Money)
by Wang Bing

Monday February 6, 2017, 24:00 on ERT2
Ku Qian (Bitter Money), 2016, France/China, 157 min.
Director: Wang Bing (documenta 14 artist)

“Time is money (bastard)” sang the Swans in 1986. The same refrain—deprived of its punk rage—drives the subjects of Wang Bing’s Bitter Money. The film follows country people moving to the city to be employed as textile workers on daily or seasonal contracts. This is a common fate for those caught up in China’s rapid transformation, where megalopolises such as Huzhou—where Bitter Money is set—bring in more than 300,000 workers from the rural hinterland to work in 18,000 private sweatshops for the clothing industry.

In accounting for the brutal contradiction between forced urbanization and neglect of the countryside, Wang Bing’s cinema became a mirror for a hidden nation, forgetful of its past and peopled by ghosts. Bitter Money deals directly with neo-capitalism, its immediate effects and its consequences: the filmmaker follows a group of workers in their daily lives, caught between long shifts and brief resting moments in a dormitory, where cordiality gives way to complaints and cell phone screens stand in for emotional relations. Wang Bing accompanies his characters, standing by their sides, living in their skins, his presence that of a silent witness and trustful companion. He becomes so familiar that they can turn to him for help, or for a sudden outburst.

In one scene, it is possible to spot the filmmaker’s shadow under a staircase: what would be considered a formal imperfection in traditional cinema here becomes an act of political conscience. In order to show a different China, Wang Bing invents a style of cinema that can win back people’s trust, undermined by their recent history.

​—Daniela Persico, film critic and curator

Posted in Public TV on 02.06.2017