In moving from one subject to the next, each with a tangential connection to the previous one, Wang’s film could be criticised for its meandering nature. Yet the people Wang profiles, and the way he presents them without censorship, ensures that Bitter Money possesses a potent emotional power. His subjects include the emotionally exhausted Ling Ling, who suffers physical abuse from her husband. With little in the way of editorialising, Wang makes it clear that their dual misery is borne from a toxic economic situation.
Another poignant portrait is that of 40-something Huang Lei, a man separated from his rural family, whose drunkenness stems from immense loneliness. In a particularly excruciating sequence, he is scolded by his boss for being drunk and is refused wages until he sobers up.
Wang lets his camera rest on these individuals, allowing them to live their lives while he merely watches. In a way this gives these otherwise powerless people the ability to express themselves as they are, rather than as a less scrupulous director might like them to appear. The range of subjects which builds the poignancy of Wang’s work does mean the runtime extends to two and half hours, but the trade-off is a series of rich portraits.
Some may criticise Bitter Money for not offering a figure to blame. However, its achievement is in showing the nuances of factory workers who are often dehumanised, even by sympathetic articles. Wang pieces together a film of supreme sympathy, through profiles made heartrending without extensive editing.
DIRECTOR: Wang Bing
SYNOPSIS: A documentary about factory workers in China’s harsh textile industry.