Films have been used as mediums to showcase social transformation. In the Chinese film Platform made by Jia Zhang, this theme is writ large. The film reflects the changing attitudes, beliefs and cultural norms evident in late twentieth century China. It was time when the country was moving towards modernization, leaving behind some of its time-worn traditions. A small clip from the film is chosen for in-depth analysis for this essay. The clip starts at 1:28:30 and ends at1:31:20. Yet, within that short span, most of the main themes in the film could be glimpsed. Through the choice of shot angles and perspectives, behavior and actions of the actors, etc one could study the said themes. This clip is full of deft directorial touches that show how Chinese society is in transition during the last decade of the twentieth century.
Director Jia Zhang skillfully employs visual perspectives to signify social messages. His use of wide angle shots showing the imposing gorge between huge mountains has a dramatic effect of its own. The opening of the clip shows a truck full of people struggling to start-off. The truck is in the dried up gorge with the huge mountainous range in the backdrop. The railway bridge crossing through the mountains is not yet shown. Having given up the attempt to start the truck the driver and his assistant jump out the cabin. A few moments later, the driver returns to his seat and puts on a music cassette. The song that plays is a popular chartbuster called Platform, which is also the name of the film. Though the lyrics are in Chinese the style is decidedly Western, modern and hip. This is Jia Zhang’s way of showing how the Chinese society is changing culturally. Regional differences are being erased in favor of a homogenized national culture which is influenced by the West. (Strictly film school, 2000).
As the song Platform starts playing, we see how its lyrics are applicable to the situation the stranded group finds itself in. The lyrics talk about longing for love in the metaphoric language of train arrivals and departures in station platforms. The intended dry humor comes out well as the upbeat march of the song is broken by the distant whistling of a real train. But it is not love the stranded passengers are after. Instead they run toward the distant bridge with the hope of getting a piggyback ride, which could take them out of the wilderness and into safety. One could also read this situation in terms of China’s fast ascent in global economy since the 1980s. The cargo train that zips past at rapid pace is an apt metaphor for this rise in economic prowess. The stranded passengers are the citizens trying to get ahead in life and get out of the mire they find themselves in. Hence, there is rich social comment to be found in the short clip analyzed here. (College of Arts and Sciences, 2013)