The World is aptly named; it's set in Beijing's World Park--a real theme park in China's capital, complete with miniature versions of landmark buildings and monuments from all over the world including, in this film, the often-mentioned Eiffel Tower, as well as the pyramids of Egypt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Moscow's Red Square, the Taj Mahal, and so on.
The director, Zhang Ke Jia, focuses on a number of younger people (in their 20s) who work at World Park, interleaving their lives with each other to ultimately present a vision of 21st century urban China. This has a markedly different feel and tone from his earlier Unknown Pleasures, set in a rural provincial area, and from my point of view, is all the better for that change of setting.
The underlying thematic feel of the film is the inevitability of ephemeral relationships given not so much the availability of current technologies like the cell phone, but more so the reliance on them and, maybe most importantly, the enormous degree to which people's psychologies have been changed by these technologies. In fact, this short-lived nature of relationships, indicates Zhang, is inextricably enmeshed in the existence of World Park itself. People want to see and hear the world, all of the world, as quickly as possible, and World Park gives them that opportunity, even if in a fake kind of way--just like cell phones give people the opportunity to connect to anyone anywhere at any time, just as the Internet itself does.
But it's this instant "connectability" that also fosters relationships that cannot last. Tao, the female lead and a dancer at the World Park, has a strong emotional connection with her boyfriend Taisheng, a security guard in the same place. But he cannot commit; he cheats on her; she finds out. Meanwhile, another relationship is characterized by a boyfriend who always wants to know where his girlfriend has been, always asking her the same question--as if desperately trying to reverse this instant "everywhere at once" psychology that current technologies--and World Park itself--perpetuates.
This is a truly intriguing film, because it probes more deeply than a lot of other films have managed to do the nature of how globalization has effected a paradigm shift in how we think about our relationships with others, how we see ourselves--or maybe don't see ourselves too well at all--in the context of the world, and how we cope with those around us who have, just like us, changed--likely in the same way we have.
Highly recommended. A real find and worthy of the high praise it's received from a number of critics.