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All, Or Nothing at All

In this bold Chinese commentary on mass consumerism, audiences are forced to ask difficult questions about their lives - from the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Jiajun ‘Oscar’ Zhang’s debut feature unites a collection of individual tracks of mind, winds them into something resembling a story. Most of the film is set in a mall, where teenagers leer at the devices, faders and paraphernalia on display. They walk together like sheep, searching for a leader, almost hypnotised by the material on display. They are young – clearly representative of the Generation Z market – introducing an oddly fractured vision of their generation.

All, Or Nothing At All opens on a hologram of a tower, the floors and windows pixelated.The film cuts to a young bespectacled girl, putting on different types of shades. She veers over the counter to witness a dance class, which is heavily influenced by genres heard in the West. Suffused with colour, the feature is rife with contradiction and contrast, especially in the camera angles, positing the smaller humans beneath gargantuan models- looming like Gods over their obedient subjects. Zhang shows the message rather than lazily transmit it through exposition, but he is guilty of repeating ideas during the process. It’s a paper-thin plot that overstays its welcome (the film is just shy of 130 minutes in length), but director Jiajun ‘Oscar’ Zhang luxuriates viewers in a series of beautifully lit set-pieces in order to deliver the emotional undertones.

As commentaries go, All, Or Nothing At All is a deeply prescient one: young people flock to the shopping centre searching for the newest, shiniest object to go with their collection. The word “robot” stems from a Slavic word meaning “forced labour”, ie slave. While Zhang never explicitly refers to the consumers as “robots” or “slaves”, it’s clear that the consumers involuntarily surrender themselves to the merchandise in question.And with a centre as grand as this one, the feeling is that the more sparkly and splashy the thing in question is, the more it attracts buyers by the bucketload. In one illuminating shot, the film exposes a line of people looking at an object, like a herd of lionesses mounting a prey.

Composer C-Low offers a strangely haunting score, lit by a post-modernistic template that reflects the materialistic counterpoints within the tale. The soundtrack is soaked by keyboards, emulating the disparate adventures reflected by the consumers ambitions and lack of desire. Zhang paints a very desolate depiction of society, whole communes walking silently through the coppers and electronic stairs that guide them from place to place. Again, the film is occasionally guilty of indulgence, repeating plot lines – boy meets girl who prefers a device – throughout the picture. The film’s unconventional plot structure, if there is one, doesn’t make for easy viewing.

But there’s no denying the grandeur, the design, the ambition and the creativity of thought that enters into every stylised shot. Where there’s a sparsity of plot, there’s a rich diversity of shots. The bar scene is lit like a Michael Mann film from the 1980s, blue shadows rippling off the wall, whereas the café scen shows a greyness that’s almost as lonely as the couple that sit beneath it (the boyfriend barely looks up to smile at the woman sitting across from him.) Such is the raw power of the film, it highlights the importance of digital detoxification among viewers, both old and young.

Fittingly, the movie ends with a young woman returning her phone. Clearly, she’s dissatisfied with the results. Amused by her candour, the shopteller asks if she’s drawn “snowflakes?” A dig at this generation’s inability to take a joke? Either way, All, Or Nothing At All is a fable about mass consumerism.

If society continues in this manner, it will be hard to distinguish humans from their devices.

All, Or Nothing At All just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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