Mandarin w/ English subtitles
The city of Huzhou, where the film is shot, is home to 18,000 clothing factories. They are staffed by about 300,000 workers, many of them migrants from rural areas in the surrounding provinces. BITTER MONEY follows a handful of these workers, both at work where they may labor for more than 12 hours a day and in their off-hours, as they hang around shabby dorms drinking, dreaming of home, worrying about getting paid, and trying to decide whether their jobs are worth keeping. In one telling moment, a young woman considers joining a pyramid scheme, saying, "they can't scam me because I don't have any money."
BITTER MONEY opens with two teenage cousins leaving for Huzhou. The packed train is a portent of things to come, with some passengers forced to sleep in the bathroom, and others involved in conversations on subjects like poisonous gases in the workplace. The factories where the cousins and other workers end up aren't like the massive, futuristic tech assembly lines whose images we've grown accustomed to. Rather, these are mom-and-pop operations in which workers are paid by the piece, and harassment is common.
Wang Bing brings his signature approach to the subject, never offering an overt condemnation of a system that promises a better life to rural youth, but entraps them in a grindingly dull existence. The camera watches carefully, lingering on shots, moving from one conversation to another. More powerful than any commentary, this technique captures the contours of the characters' lives, trapped as they are in abusive relationships, oppressive jobs, and dispiriting surroundings.
Best Screenplay, 2016 Biennale di Venezia - Orizzonti Competition
2017 Film Comment Selects, Film Society of Lincoln Center
2016 South Korea DMZ Film Festival
2016 Festival du Nouveau cinema Montreal
2016 Rio International Film festival
2016 Mar del Plata International Film Festival
2016 Tokyo FILMeX
2016 Seoul Independent Film Festival
2016 Zagreb Human Rights Film Festival