Mang jing / Blind Shaft

Mang jing / Blind Shaft (2003)

If they're blind, why do they need flashlights?

Director: Li Yang
Writers: Based on Liu Xingang’s short, “Shen Mu”. Adapted by Li Yang
Date: 2003

Genre: Suspense / Thriller, Drama
Description: Murder, money, corruption, urbanization of China, consequence of greed, youth and naivete, coal mines

Cast: Li Qiang, Wang Baoqiang, Wang Shuangbao

Crew of note:

Runtime: 92 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Was banned in China and was never released there, even though it won a ton of awards like the Silver Bear in Berlin. Shot inside real mines in the provinces of Hebei and Shanxi.

Jinming and Fengming are two buds who work from mine to mine, making money from a wretched scheme. Both have commitments to themselves and to their families, and they feel little regret for what they do. Now, after collecting on their latest victim, they befriend the young Zhaoyang, who has quit school to help his family’s plight. They apply for work at a new mine, and together enter its darkness.

A fascinating yet sometimes uneventful movie. Sure, there’s murder, but it is just the vehicle for Li Yang’s picture of poverty. The premise is an interesting one, despite the fact that the course of the movie is laid out within the first few minutes, with the plot never straying too much from the inevitable. Yes, these characters are conflicted ones, but they seem to be very nonchalant–almost in acceptance of the way their world works–that wolves eat sheep for breakfast. It may seem like there is a lack of characterization, but watch intently as they go about their plans,and act so normally as they wait for an opportunity. Not much can be learned from their conversations–when they talk they are very one-minded (money, money, money)–but they sure act in strange ways.

Shot well, with particularly great shots inside the mine which uses only natural light and light from their headlamps. The first time they show the two descending into the shaft is ominous–knowing their intentions, it is harrowing. Also an achievement is how it is actually possible to empathize with all the characters. Yes, you will blame them, perhaps hate them, but at the same time hope that there is something more to them.

This isn’t your typical suspense or crime thriller. In fact, most of the elements necessary for a good suspense are subverted, because you know who, how, when and where they’re going to do it–all you have to do is wait. Instead the movie tackles the conditions of illegal mines in China, and the lengths the poor will go to make ends meet.

things to take note of
The shots inside the mine
The strange, conflicting characters who sometimes make little sense
It’s a real mine, dudes

best moment
The last scene inside the mine

why you should watch this
It was banned–that’s sure to add interest
It’s a real mine, dudes; it’s not often you get to peek inside
Though subverted, the suspense element actually builds up rather wonderfully

rating: 8

Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: C
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
The “suspense but not actually just a suspense” feeling is also present in Suna no onna by Teshigahara Hiroshi, though I can’t say they’re very similar.