Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks is a nine hour, three part documentary about the decline of Chinese state-run heavy industry.
In 1999 Wang Bing, not long graduated from Beijing’s Film Academy, arrived at the Tie Xi industrial district of Shenyang with little more than a tiny DV camera he didn’t even own. Tie Xi (the name literally means ‘west of the tracks’) was at the time China’s oldest and largest industrial centre, built by the Japanese in World War II, nationalised come the end of the war and subsequently taken over by the newly-founded Communist party.
Once Tie Xi was a beacon of socialist progress, but by the end of the millennium the machinery was falling apart (having gone without any significant upgrades for decades) and the administration was haemorrhaging funds day in, day out. Over the next three years, Wang Bing watched the district implode; factories going bankrupt, workers laid off, buildings torn down and the population relocated.
PART II: REMNANTS
Remnants drags these death throes out to a stupefying degree (the trilogy grows notably darker as it moves on). The second instalment follows the population of Rainbow Road, one of the many housing estates dotted across Tie Xi. The workers’ children are equally aware of what the future holds – Wang follows groups of young people as their parents come home jobless, followed by notices going up the estate is about to be demolished and all residents have to leave.
Watching the kids engage in perfectly ordinary teenage horseplay even as they acknowledge their world is on the verge of ending is heartbreaking enough but to subsequently see this happen goes beyond that. Again, there is little conventional structure here and neither overt melodrama nor consistent sense of closure. Wang never once imposes himself on events – sometimes he sees residents go, sometimes people he’s followed for months simply disappear from the narrative without warning, with even their friends left wondering what happened.
Their houses are tiny, multiple generations crammed into a single room, and word swiftly goes out the prospective new homes are smaller still. Several die-hard squatters band together to try and coerce the government into offering a better deal. Wang stays with them as utilities are cut and winter descends yet again, watching while people huddle together for warmth, cooking by candlelight, reduced to melting snow for extra water.
Grand Prize, International Documentary Festival, Marseille, 2003
Grand Prize, Festival du Film, Yamagata, 2003
Grand Prize, International Documentary Festival, Lisbon, 2002
Untouched DVD 9
DVD Format: PAL
DVD Audio: Stereo
DVD extras: None
Distributor: Tiger Releases
Nominal bit rate : 7 500 Kbps
Width : 720 pixels
Height : 576 pixels
Display aspect ratio : 4:3
Frame rate : 25.000 fps
Standard : PAL
Scan type : Interlaced
Format : AC-3
Bit rate mode : Constant
Bit rate : 192 Kbps
Channel(s) : 2 channels