As the snow fell and settled and froze on London recently, I started watching Wang Bing's impressive nine-hour documentary film, shot a decade ago, much of it in snowy winters, in the decaying, emptying factories and surrounding communities of Tie Xi, the heavy industrial area of the city of Shandong which lies West of the Tracks. The long, long shots along the freight rail lines between the shells of factory hangars, unmaintained and fast becoming derelict, chilled my soul, already somewhat chilled. The stark, harsh beauty and humanity of the project were engaging and very moving.
What a work! Nine hours of slow, sophisticated, often silent cinema. A gentle, epic view of the end of an era, with few pretensions and multiple aesthetic, narrative and political meanings. This was a pinnacle in my small explorations of contemporary Chinese film and literature begun since that big part of the world became real with my brief working trip to Shanghai last year. Of course, I could spend the rest of my life and not get to know even the fraction that's translated.