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Originally published Friday, September 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Understated satire keeps "The World" in odd orbit

Somewhere in Beijing is a real-life marvel of tourist-trap kitsch called World Park, approximately 115 acres of miniature replicas of Paris' Eiffel...

Special to The Seattle Times

Somewhere in Beijing is a real-life marvel of tourist-trap kitsch called World Park, approximately 115 acres of miniature replicas of Paris' Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other facsimiles of recognizable destinations — even New York City's lost Twin Towers.

As seen in Jia Zhangke's "The World," a fictional movie set in World Park, these maudlin clones are as tall as a one-story building, and visitors can circle the park via slow monorail or motorboat. Watching the film is a similar kind of creeping orbit; there is a sense that Zhangke's tale of people who work as entertainers, security guards and laborers at World Park doesn't really progress so much as brilliantly curve back on itself repeatedly.

The characters caught in this endless loop seem insulated from life beyond the park's borders. Many are relatives of one another, or friends of friends from distant villages. Romances spring up within the sheltered community; one employee gets a promotion during her affair with the boss.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The World," with Zhao Tao, Chen Tiashen and Jiang Zhongwei. Written and directed by Jia Zhangke. 139 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes mild adult themes). In Mandarin and Shanxi with English subtitles. Varsity.

The women who dance in World Park's glitzy productions dream of visiting the real places re-created as sets in World Park, but their shabby quarters at the facility suggest they will never do so. Zhangke ("Unknown Pleasures"), who has drawn the wrath of Chinese authorities before for making films critical of the government, blatantly skewers the kind of gaudy, homegrown capitalism that allows someone to profit from the likes of World Park while its workers can't afford to realize middle-class ambitions.

Yet if "The World's" satire is obvious, it's hardly loud. In fact, the film's rotation of micro-dramas is so unassuming (except for a few devious moments of animation) as to be almost unengaging to a viewer's busy mind. "The World" could almost glide off one like water, but don't let it. Its rewards come with patience and concentration.

Tom Keogh:

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