“The Shaft” (“Dixia de tiankong”)
Three Stories in One
“The Shaft” from China is a collection of three stories in which all of the characters live or work in a mine in a small Chinese town. Beautifully photographed, we get a look at a mining community that is very interesting. I know that a film about Chinese mine workers is not something that is going to pull people into a box office but it is more than that—it is a look at contemporary China. The people in the town are very poor and the place where they live is not pretty. We see the strains of life that the people feel and director Zhang Chi focuses on a family of three who live in a cramped apartment and their stories are told in three segments.
In the first segment, the pretty daughter works in the mine. She has a boyfriend who rides her home on his bicycle. He buys her shoes that she does not take because it is considered bad luck to buy shoes for a woman because she may use them to walk out on the person who gave them to her. She is accused of having sex with the mine manager because she got a promotion. The other workers turn on her and she leaves and moves to Beijing and marries an older man.
The second segment is about her young brother who dreams of becoming a pop singer. He quits school and ends up in prison because he abetted a thief and after his release he begins working in the mine, something he had vowed not to do.
The third segment is about the father who retires after a lifetime of working in the mind. His son and daughter throw him a birthday party for his 60th and this is an embarrassment for him. He wants to look for his wife who deserted the family some 20 years before.
The common theme between the stories is yearning. The daughter finally starts a new life, the son is taken through a series of awakenings and the father dreams of his lost wife. We see lives which are propelled forward by desire. Major issues are looked at here—the shortage of women in China and the improbability of economic stability. Desires are held within and the characters must find a way to deal with their yens.