Review: In ‘Bitter Money,’ Documenting China’s Textile Boom


An industrial worker inside the documentary “Bitter Money.”

Icarus Films

For viewers unfamiliar with the rewardingly arduous documentaries of the Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing, “Bitter Money” won’t be the easiest place to start. A determined, mostly unobtrusive observer of China’s dispossessed, Mr. Wang works in a demanding mode of vérité, allowing scenes to play out at length along with providing little inside the way of exposition.

His extreme running times often pay dividends. of which’s hard to describe the feeling of relief when, after three hours of the nearly four-hour “’Til Madness Do Us Part,” the camera suddenly leaves the mental hospital. In “Bitter Money,” which runs more than two along having a half hours, the duration seems less purposeful than the vestige of a film in progress. of which’s not clear of which the director quite found what he was looking for.

Mr. Wang’s subject will be the mass migration to Huzhou, where a boom in clothing manufacturing seems roughly comparable to the North Dakota oil rush inside the United States. Residents via rural areas have gone to Huzhou for jobs. Mr. Wang documents the bustle on a crowded train to the city, though typically, he doesn’t provide statistical details until the closing title cards.

Only some of the workers, filmed between 2014 along with 2016, stand out. The most tense interaction occurs early, when a woman who has left her abusive husband returns to him seeking money. Mr. Wang films the resulting altercation in a 10-minute take, with his camera crouching outside a shop door like a voyeur. The director’s methods are open to ethical debate, although the power of his filmmaking, at its best, will be not.

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