The absence of a moral compass in contemporary ChinaXiao Wu, a film by Jia Zhang Ke at the London Film Festival Xiao Wu is a film which captures vividly the emptiness of its characters' existence, which shows us their alienation. But it is not simply concerned with existential angst. It strongly conveys a sense of the devastation that Stalinism has wrought on China.
The story itself is very slender. Xiao Wu ("little Wu"), the central character of writer-director Jia Zhang Ke's debut film, is a provincial pickpocket. He has grown up a thief in Fenyang province where, the film suggests, there was little else for him or people like him. All of his acquaintances grew up as petty criminals too.
We follow Xiao Wu around Fenyang as he steals wallets. Unlike his friends who have given up thieving, Wu has remained a pickpocket. He throws away ID cards and operates with the cash that he steals. His is a cash-theft economy, but times have changed. The police advise Wu to "learn a new trade". All his former acquaintances have gotten more sophisticated, have become small "businessmen". His one-time best friend Xiao Yang has just been named a "Model Entrepreneur" for his cigarette trafficking activities. Everyone is on the make. This is the real face of "communism with Chinese characteristics".
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