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A Bridge between China and the Rest of the World



Please join this special RASBJ film club screening of 'Factory Boss" and QA with its director ZHANG WEI , himself a factory boss-turned-filmmaker. Released in 2014, "Factory Boss" focuses on dilemmas bedeviling the Shenzhen toy factory boss who finds himself inexorably squeezed between rising workers' demands and the rapacious tactics of his profit-obsessed Western customers. A powerful expose of the contradictions triggered by China's economic rise, "Factory Boss" was critically acclaimed at the 2014 Montreal World Film Festival where Yao Anlin won the best actor prize for his moving portrayal of the factory head. After the film you'll have a chance to talk with director Zhang, who is passionate about his second career as a filmmaker (and his hobby of collecting fine whiskies).

WHAT: RASBJ screening of "Factory Boss" and QA with director Zhang Wei

WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 20, 7:00-9:30 PM

WHERE: Courtyard Institute, #28 Zhong Lao Hutong, Dongcheng District

HOW MUCH: 30 RMB for members, 60 RMB for non-members

RSVP: please email events@rasbj.org

The 98-minute film is in Chinese with English subtitles. Additional information is on Facebook HERE


“For growing ranks of China watchers, “Factory Boss” offers an engrossing expose of the built-in impasses of global economics from an unexplored perspective... unmistakable authenticity” -- VARIETY

SYNOPSIS: For 20 years, Lin Dalin has worked tirelessly to transform his fledgling toy manufacturing business in Shenzhen, China, into a hugely successful global competitor. The current economic squeeze sees China losing its once-impressive manufacturing industry to cheaper Southeast Asian countries, and Lin’s factory suffers upheaval on all fronts. Taking a desperate shot to avoid bankruptcy, Lin begrudgingly accepts an insulting deal just to survive another quarter. Meanwhile, Ai Jing, an idealistic young investigative journalist, goes undercover at Lin’s factory intending to expose the company’s worker abuses. The government announces a minimum wage increase, a worker revolt rumbles and the risk of strike looms. Hard pressed to meet demands from all sides, Lin Dalin weighs the risk of a workers’ strike against tremendous losses and ruin of his company… The resulting confrontation brings the entire industry to the brink of collapse, rippling across every aspect of China’s explosive growth and rise to power.

REVIEW FROM VARIETY:  The title figure in “Factory Boss” is one who normally garners little sympathy, particularly in the West, where cheap Chinese labor has undercut local production. Yet helmer Zhang Wei and thesp Yao Anlian create a complex character virtually impossible not to identify with, at least partially: Caught between a rock and a hard place — the paper-thin profit margins offered by Western conglomerates vs. rising worker demands at home — he inevitably winds up treating everyone unfairly, including himself. For growing ranks of China watchers, “Factory Boss” offers an engrossing expose of the built-in impasses of global economics from an unexplored perspective.

Lin Dalin (Yao) owns a toy factory in Shenzhen, one of the few surviving remnants of a once-thriving industry. As he faces stiff competition from cheaper Asian markets, his only hope of staying afloat is to accept an order from an American mega-corporation at a price beneath that necessary to maintain adequate wages and safety for his workers. Yet to refuse the order would mean shutting down the factory, leaving workers without jobs. Lin speeds up assembly lines and cuts corners while desperately trying to placate the increasingly disaffected workforce, every decision plunging him further into disaster. Meanwhile, an idealistic young reporter (a too-pretty Tang Yan) secures a position at the company as a cover for her investigation of conditions in a “blood and sweat” shop. Her article further inflames the situation, though by the time public outcry and manager-worker tensions have reached a boiling point, she has come to understand Lin’s side of the story.

Indeed, helmer Zhang, having arrived late to his cinematic career, was himself once an entrepreneur, and seems to have made this film expressly in order to communicate management’s perspective on industry and labor disputes, careful to concede the justice of many of the workers’ demands while denouncing lawyers who push them to unreasonable excesses. The final courtroom scene ends with Lin’s moving defense of his beleaguered-middleman plight. The power and subtlety of Yao’s performance (he won a much-deserved best actor prize in Montreal) and the film’s visual grounding in the actual assembly-line processes of a doll-manufacturing plant (naked little plastic body parts abounding in lenser Lutz Reitemeier’s widescreen compositions) are what save “Factory Boss” from its borderline didactic, overly careful apportioning of responsibility. Rather predictably, it’s the profit-pursuing American conglomerate that is finally left to shoulder the blame in an impassioned speech by the idealistic reporter.

But if Zhang’s own business experience adds a note of self-justification to the mix, his feel for the day-to-day pressures, compromises and difficulties of running a factory, at a time when the country’s “made in China” hegemony has begun to erode, proves wholly convincing. This lends the film an unmistakable authenticity as it grants Yao’s boss a specific socioeconomic context for his endless, danger-fraught decision making.


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