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
"A characteristically rough-edged work, both visually and in the sound recording, the film eschews aesthetic finesse to follow its multiple characters where situations demand, to strikingly vivid effect."
"BITTER MONEY hits the sweet spot, balancing several stories without sticking to or staying away from any individual for too long. We have enough information to see these people as individuals, but their plights also come to represent a dire, widespread economic reality."
"The view [Wang Bing] offers of modern, non-tourist Chinese life is fascinating as well as grim."
The Arts STL
"Award-winning observational documentary maker Wang Bing turns his camera on China's internal migrants and their hardscrabble lives in garment workshops."
"One of the most exciting nonfiction filmmakers working today. Engrossing, compelling; a masterful work. One comes away from the film with a deeper understanding of how China’s working poor live."
"Wang’s camera captures the relentless hopelessness of the Chinese low-income working class, not for us to gawk at, but for us to experience, to become a part of it, and to maybe also understand it."
"Bing has an unreal talent for finding precisely the right way to frame candid moments."
"The value of this “in your face” documentary is to remind the viewer that migrant workers have been left out of the bounties of a rapidly modernizing China."
"With its vivid, extended depiction of migrants wasting their lives away through monotonous labor, BITTER MONEY adds yet another chapter to Wang's patient and painfully heartfelt chronicle of lives left fluttering in the wake of a country's ascent to global supremacy... Wang has produced an absorbing treatise of forgotten lives as lived by individuals in transit. The bodies remain intact, but their spirits are broken."
The Hollywood Reporter