Working in the theater, Godot-like setting of the oddly, real-life dreariness of Chinese coal mining, Blind Shaft depicts dangerous desperation and corruption with a sobering relevance that'll stick to you in a most uncomfortable way. And Westerners (like me) will be especially curious—how often do we think of Chinese and Coal Mining?
Yang gives you plenty to see in a tightly focused film that works its magic much like a Sam Fuller picture. With definite B elements in place, the film also incorporates horror, noir and neorealism to an almost aching point of tension. You are immediately thrust into this dark world and through its unrelenting force and style, there is no exit.
Adapted from novelist Liu Qingbang's best seller and Laoshe Literature Prize winner of 2002, "Shen mu" (Sacred wood), the picture takes us into the life of itinerant miners scamming through murder. The two racketeers are Song (Qiang Li) and Tang (Shuangbao Wang) who have concocted a scheme of reaping compensation for wages after a relative "accidentally" dies in a mine. Their opening target is young Yuan (Baoquiang Wang) who's working to pay for his sister's education. Offering him a job, Song poses as his Uncle.
It's a horrifying scam in horrifying conditions. Bad enough these guys have to get up, half alive, before day break, even worse their job requires they will sometime work in a shaft for days. When men are casually killed and the murderers are given swift payouts without any investigation, the picture doubles the dose of questioning—just who is more corrupt? More evil?
Shot (sometimes with a hidden camera) Blind Shaft also depicts the grimy towns the killer's frequent where they engage in depressing sex with hostesses in a slimy karaoke club. The grittiness of the bars, brothels and markets reveal an underbelly to China that you're not apt to see so aggressively sullied. But making this film within a more restrictive regime (though banned) brought out a gutsier view than most American films, not only in it's depiction of the callous deaths truly occurring within these mines (according to authorities, there are more than 5,000 mine deaths a year—according to the filmmaker, the number is significantly higher) but in the misery of the people working there. An original, horrifying, beautifully crafted picture Blind Shaft will suck you in with its real life terror.