Sunday, 28 August 2011


Shot on location in the aggressive confines of a mineshaft, Li Yang’s debut narrative feature follows the exploits of Song and Tang, two mine labourers who con young aspirant workers in the city. The men’s scheme involves them claiming that they and their nephew have secured well-paid jobs in a coalmine, but pretending the nephew has failed to turn up. Offering the open spot to a naïve sixteen-year-old boy named Yuan Fengming, they lead him to an illegal mineshaft with the plan of killing him after a few days and making it look like an accident in order to claim compensation. Song is unexpectedly touched by the boy’s childlike appearance and demeanour, and the scheme hits a snag as the two men argue over Yuan’s fate.

Buoyed by strong performances and subtly intrusive sound design (see the opening five minutes for a fine example), Blind Shaft acts simultaneously as an exposé of a shocking practice which has become far too commonplace, and as a universal statement on financial greed. Li himself has stated that the film should not be seen specifically as an indictment on the Chinese work ethic, but its ban in China suggests that the content hits closer to home than expected. Comparisons to the films of Wang Bing, particularly his marathon documentary Tie Xi Qu, may be reductive, but both directors work towards the similar goal of offering an unabashed insight into the ‘real’ China, and as such one could never overstate the importance of Blind Shaft.