For Western viewers willing to spend 143 minutes inside a cocoon-like Chinese theme park littered with scaled-down reproductions of the Eiffel Tower, the Piazza San Marco and the Taj Mahal, Jia Zhangke's The World (2004) can be a rewarding experience. As with the bogus pyramids and ersatz Empire State Buildings of Las Vegas, these atrocities mock reality and disturb perception, but the controversial Chinese director (he's run afoul of the Communist authorities for years) has something more crucial in mind than herding gamblers toward the tables. Seen in its full light, The World reveals the heartless ironies of life in present-day China. The underpaid theme-park workers we meet here constantly change costumes and roles to suit the whims of their employers and the tourists who cram the place, and in the end, we come to suspect they're even more disconsolate than their forebears, who slaved in the fields and endured the terrors of the Cultural Revolution. As a wry social and political statement, the film works very well, indeed -- at least for those who can abide its snail's pace.
The World screens on Wednesday, October 26, as part of the University of Colorado's International Film Series. Showtime is 7 p.m., in Muenzinger Auditorium, west of Folsom Stadium on CU's Boulder campus. For information, call 303-492-1531