Two workers attempt to draw a young boy into a mining job with the intention of killing him, claiming him as a relative and collecting the money, a plan which was previously executed successfully, the pay off each time being $30,000.
Blind Shaft is dark and gritty; a criticism on both China's industrialization program as well as the disregard for human life in the mining industry. The main characters, Tang Chai Yang and Song Jin Ming aren't your typical protagonists (if you can even call them that). They take advantage of the decidedly cold-hearted managers of the mines in which they labor in order to survive and move on. While what they do may usher along their own lives with just enough cash to get by, it doesn't change the fact that what they do is pretty damn vicious.
Before we're really even introduced to the characters, they off a young man they're working with in one of the mines. As he explains his longing to return home, they club him over the head and leave his cold body on the rocky ground. Once they surface, the act begins as they claim the boy was related to Tang. After some negotiations they end up packing their bags and leaving the mine with 30 grand in their pocket.
As they stand in town among the immense crowd waiting for work opportunities, they stumble into a young 16 year-old boy and immediately draw him into their next scheme. They have him memorize a new name and age: Song Feng Ming, 18. Young Song is impressionable and naive. His character makes the movie unbearably grim, knowing what they inevitably plan to use him for. With the notion of him as a nephew and a new mine to work at, the pins are all in place to kill him off in the darkness of the cold shaft.
Most of the film is spent somberly following their routine at the new mine, getting us acquainted with young Song and building up a palpable tension leading up to the murderous fruition of their plan. While you might initially think liking the duo of Song and Tang would be impossible, it's easier to feel the same indifference towards them that the mine management does towards the lives of their workers. The cold world of mining is so aptly illustrated without shoving it in your face. Tang and Song exploit the system in the same way that the system exploits the workers. It's reciprocated misuse and abuse that chases its tail until the origins are unrecognizable, as are the lines separating right from wrong.
Wang Shuangbao and Li Yixiang as Tang and Song respectively are wonderful in "Blind Shaft". Though their actions are despicable, their personalities aren't necessarily reflective of the murderous intent on the outside. It comes so casually, and they aren't sinister about it. Maybe it is horrible that this has become so routine, but there is change within at least one of them after spending time with their young future victim, formerly named Yuan and played by Wang Baoqiang. His portrayal of this innocent 16 year-old is what makes the film so gut-wrenching as the end approaches. He's pitiable and enviable for his untainted outlook at the same time.
The movie is far from beautiful. It's dirty, dusty and claustrophobic. Also contributing to the atmosphere is the complete lack of music, even during the ending credits. It's only noticeable if you're paying attention to the silence that engulfs a few of the scenes, and it was a great choice on Li Yang's part. There aren't any false emotions brought about by the inevitably sorrowful music that may have played during the film if edited differently. When the final twist comes about and the credits roll up silently, you'll find yourself instantly reflecting on what happened throughout the duration of "Blind Shaft".
Though this movie isn't for everyone, as it's a bit of a slow-burner, most will find it an interesting and sad depiction of China's steam engine rush into socialist advancement as well as a window into the rough dog-eat-dog world of mine labor. Li Yang is definitely a director to keep your eye on, and "Blind Shaft" is an excellent introduction.
This is a decent dvd for a great movie, and could definitely stand to have some more extras which are as of now pretty bare. The picture is pretty good, and is anamorphic widescreen (with an included setup in the extras) for those with the proper setup. The audio is a DD 2.0 Henanese track with optional English and Tradition/Simplified Chinese subtitles. The English subs, barring one or two grammatical errors, are great. The cupboard of extras has a few cobwebs within, along with a Synopsis (that's already on the back of the case), Cast and Credits info and the aforementioned setup for anamorphic dvd.