Around the World: Platform

discusses Platform which tells the story of a theatre troop and how their lives are effected by the social and cultural changes in China from 1979 to 1989

Over summer many of us will be going to the cinema to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters. So as an alternative this August the Nouse team is having a look at some of the gems of world cinema, which are often unfairly ignored in favour of their American counterparts. 

Image: Curzon Artificial Eye

Written and directed by the well-known Chinese ‘sixth generation director’ Jia Zhangke, Platform won the Netpac Award in 2000 Venice Film Festival along with other awards in China and Asia.

Focused on the originality of the people of lower socio-economic status, the ‘sixth generation directors’ made a huge difference compared to previous generations that emphasize the spirit of the nation. Instead of creating illusions, they focus largely on the reality along with their childhood experiences to reveal the effects of the reform and open-up policy in China.

Platform is undoubtedly an example of this. It starts in 1979 in Fenyang, Shanxi province in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. A theater troupe of young adults includes Cui Mingliang and his friends, Yin Ruijuan, Zhang Jun and Zhong Ping. They leave Fenyang and travel through the country during the 1980s. As China undergoes massive social and cultural changes, they alter their name into ‘All Star Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band’ and starts to play rock music and eventually back to Fenyang.

Platform reflects the society in the remote part of China. They are disconnected from the outside world, lack of knowledge (they even have no idea about the distance between Wenzhou and Guangzhou) but are eager to go to the outside world and actually enjoy the changes happened to their country. As performers, they care more about their and the public’s taste than how elder people think. When Cui Mingliang is facing his father, a manual worker’s complains because of his bell-bottoms, he says he is a performer and no longer need to do manual works. As young audiences, we cannot even believe that they are actually adults as their understanding to things around them is so notably poor.

Fenyang is actually Jia’s hometown. When he was a child, he always felt bored of life in this small, isolated county and enjoyed watch people fighting at the bus stop nearby. In order to watch the train, he rode bicycle ten-mile away from home. At that time, train is the symbol of the unknown world, future and hope, and platform is the starting point to the outside world. Like most Chinese people from less developed areas, he wanted to change his fate. But due to his poor grade in mathematics and physical condition, he is unable to  attend a competitive university or be a soldier. Like the characters of his film, it is through the performance art that leads to the changes in his life.

But what does these social changes brings to the average people in the end? Do the theatre troupe’s fate actually changed? After ten years of moonlighting, Cui Mingliang comes back to his hometown and marries to Zhong Ping, he sleeps soundly in the sofa while his wife is playing with their son. Meanwhile, the water in the kettle on the gas stove is boiled and sounds like the train. Cui keeps turning and tossing in his dream, the sound becomes louder and the film comes to the end.

Cui changed from an energetic and a little bigoted performer into a quiet and gloomy person. This is a metaphor which implies that he starts to adapt to his life and gives up all his the dreams and impulse. According to Jia, he knows that Cui will never go to see the train as he loses his enthusiasm.

This ending leads up to meaningful afterthoughts. This implies that there are both waiting and calling in our life. When the train stops, our youth years are gone. The platform is the starting and finishing point of our journey of a new life, especially those born in the 1970s. From gas stoves to coal gas, what price did we pay for it? For those people, the train is a distant commitment, and waiting on the platform in the past becomes an absurd memory in our heart, all our emotion inevitably flows into the boiling water in the kettle.

Platform is ‘an epic of grassroots’. In this film, the great ‘open door’ policy is no longer belonged to the reformers, but to those who strive with their dream. They are the ones that can really experience and evaluate the historical change.

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