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Blind Shaft
Blind Shaft
Actors: Qiang Li, Baoqiang Wang, Shuangbao Wang, Jing Ai, Zhenjiang Bao
Director: Yang Li
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2004     1hr 32min

Studio: Kino International Release Date: 08/17/2004 Run time: 89 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: Qiang Li, Baoqiang Wang, Shuangbao Wang, Jing Ai, Zhenjiang Bao
Director: Yang Li
Creators: Yonghong Liu, Yang Li, Karl Riedl
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Kino
Format: DVD - Color,Letterboxed - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/17/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 32min
Screens: Color,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Mandarin Chinese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Utterly unique serial killer film
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 02/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)


Written and directed by Yang Li, "Blind Shaft" provides us with a fascinating twist on the serial killer scenario. In most such films, the killer is usually relegated to the role of a shadowy antagonist whose basic function is to allow a brilliant investigator to outwit and outsmart him and bring him to justice in time for the closing credits. Not so in "Blind Shaft." For here the killers themselves take center stage and there isn't a single law officer in sight to foil the plan or mitigate our fear about what is going to happen.

Song and Yuan are two struggling Chinese laborers who've come upon an ingenious but grizzly scheme to make money. They befriend a stranger who is desperate for employment and convince him to come work with them in a nearby mine. All he has to do is agree to pass himself off as a relative of one of the two men. When they have their unsuspecting victim alone in the mine shaft, Song and Yuan cold-bloodedly murder him, claiming that the death was the result of a mining accident. Eager to avoid a scandal, the boss of the mine invariably pays a generous sum of money to the dead man's "relatives," whereupon Song and Yuan take their ill-gotten gains, lure another man into their trap, and head off to another mine to repeat the scenario.

What separates "Blind Shaft" from so many American tales about serial killers is that Song and Yuan are not portrayed as writhing, eye-rolling, hand-rubbing psychopaths, devising elaborate schemes to torture their victims and antagonize the authorities. Rather, these two killers approach their "business" in the most banal, matter-of-fact (i.e. "businesslike") way imaginable, making them all that much more chilling and believable. We feel we really could encounter people like these in our own lives. Their acts of murder are no more extraordinary to them than folding their clothes, ordering at a restaurant, or consorting with local prostitutes. In fact, the film spends far more of its time observing the mundane minutiae of their day-to-day existence than detailing the mechanics of their crimes. To these two men, killing is a means to survival (much of the money they earn from their killings they send back to their own relatives), and no moral or ethical code or twinge of compassion is allowed to stand in the way of ensuring that survival. And if it does...

It is their utter disregard for human life, their indifference to the intrinsic value of the individual that make them and their story so discomfiting and disturbing. Yet, even in this darkest of scenarios, Li gives us a glimmer of hope. When the latest intended victim turns out to be a naïve 16-year-old lad looking for money so that he can resume his studies, one of the killers begins to have second thoughts about what they have planned for him, primarily because he himself has a son who is also a student. The film, thus, becomes a gripping and fascinating study of whether or not even the most amoral person has a line beyond which he will not cross. Yet, what is most unsettling about the film is the way in which the two killers can treat their victim so "humanely" - they even insist on paying for a visit to a prostitute so that the boy won't die never having had sex - all the while knowing full well what they intend to do to him. What monster in any horror film could be scarier than that?

"Blind Shaft" is not a thriller in the conventional sense of the term. It relies less on plot and more on observation, as we follow this fascinating trio through the brothels and marketplaces of rural China, seeing a world and a lifestyle wholly unfamiliar to most of us. Li remains utterly objective and detached as he records the doings - sometimes major, sometimes trivial - of Song and Yuan as they go through their day. Stylistically, the director brings an almost documentary feel to the story, and by dedicating as much screen time to the trivial details as to the murder plot itself, he conveys the sense of moral equivalence and bankruptcy that defines the characters' way of thinking. With no melodramatic background music to cheapen the suspense, Li allows the horror to develop naturally, out of a situation in which conscience and basic human compassion have been essentially drained. As we get to know this kid, and as his two intended killers get to know him as well, we can do little but watch helplessly as the elements of the plot move inexorably to their foregone conclusion. Through this approach, "Blind Shaft" generates a kind of "suspense" that the typical slick Hollywood thriller can only dream of achieving.

With brilliant performances from the three leads, Li forces us to look into the darkness that often lurks in the heart of Man. It is a frightening but unforgettable vision."
Not what I expected.
neon rebel | WhiteStone, NY USA | 10/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I was expecting a heavy-handed preachy film about the tough lives of miners. How wrong I was. This film about two serial-murdering con men opens with the killing of their latest victim, we then watch as one man pretends to be a grieving relative while the other skillfully negotiates the bereavement payout with the mining company, which recongizes the con but is too mired in bureaucracy to care. Later, after sending the bulk of their "earnings" home and spending the rest on prostitutes, they spot their next "relative" like predatory hawks in the sky, and descend for the kill instinctively. What happens after is supposed to be textbook for them, but traces of humanity spring up to surprise all. This last section could have turned melodramatic, but the well-researched script never allowed us to feel anything less than real. Add to that the sure handed direction, claustrophobic hand-held photography, efficient editing, and capable performances all fit together perfectly. You really couldn't ask for more from a movie. It's easy to see why La Mexicaine de Perforation would want to screen this, since it was an underground (without government approval) film about the the underground, and the fact that it's so good probably didn't hurt either."
Superior filmmaking
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 01/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Li Yang, writer/director of Blind Shaft, is a Chinese documentary filmmaker who, in this film, turned to features and with superior results. In a revealing and powerful essay he himself wrote for the release of this film on DVD, found in the DVD case insert, he talks about how grueling it was to make it.

The story of two murdering grifters with mining experience--enough to get them jobs in any one of hundreds of mines that sprang up after the demise of the Communist economy in mainland China--Blind Shaft pulls no punches in portraying the day-to-day existence of dirt-poor, working class men and women who scrabble for a living, waiting in the streets of the city, the village, the town, for work to come along. These two, Tang and Song, have developed a vicious plan to make money--find a poor, unsuspecting man, have him pose as the nephew or cousin of one of them, take the man with them to the next mine that needs workers, descend the shaft into the mine, kill the third man and make it look like a mine cave-in, then, in essence, blackmail the mine owner into paying funeral and related expenses to the two of them for the "accident".

The editing in the film is what sets this apart from many other films. The filmmaker, one can tell, is a master editor, absolutely brilliant. There's not one wasted shot, not one extraneous cinematic moment. The story is lean and mean, and so is the editing. Interestingly enough, this is, as well, reflected in the acting; Yang used mostly non-professionals to portray the characters in the film. This lends the work a jarring realism that one wonders would be there had he used professionals.

When Tang and Song recruit a 16-year old, Feng, as their next victim, things do not go exactly as planned. One of the two killers, as it turns out, has slightly more humanity running through his polluted blood than the other.

Winner of several awards at various international film festivals, Blind Shaft is a riveting work of cinema that should without question have a much wider audience. This is truly superior filmmaking. Thanks to Kino for finding and releasing this powerful film.

Very highly recommended; one of the best Chinese films in the last five years.