The Piano In A Factory

The Piano In A Factory


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Guilin (Wang Qian-Yuan) is a former factory worker, now making ends meet by performing with his band, playing in nightclubs and weddings. It's a consequence of a larger shift, as China moves beyond its first wave of industrialisation and men with proud blue-collar backgrounds move uncomfortably into the service industry. Some don't find jobs at all, like Guilin's shiftless brother-in-law, cheating at penny mah jong, but Guilin himself is adjusting fairly well to the new era. He has a comfortable, albeit small apartment and he can make most of the things he needs. He also has a devoted girlfriend, also in the band, though it's not entirely clear that he appreciates this.

Where Guilin's life is going wrong reflects another kind of cultural change. His wife is divorcing him, going off to live an easy life with a man who has got rich selling fake medicines. This wouldn't be so bad - though amicable, they fall easily into arguments and it's clear that whatever burned between them has gone - but they both want custody of their daughter, Xiao Juan. When they agree that it's up to her to decide whom she lives with, she says she will stay with the parent who can provide her with a piano. This is less exploitative than it may seem. Both parents have high hopes for her musical abilities and see music as a route to a better life for her. But Guilin has no spare money; how can he compete? His only hope is to draw together his old friends from the steelworks and make a piano from scratch.

Copy picture

Despite its central character's self-centeredness and tendency to sulk, this is a charming, lighthearted film which in places is laugh-out-loud funny. Carefully developed minor characters create a portrait of a community gearing itself up for new challenges that go far beyond the project at hand. Although Guilin's girlfriend is the only woman involved in the project, she's sufficiently assertive as to provide a reminder throughout of the changing role of women in Chinese society, reflecting themes found in The Full Monty. She too is divorced with a child and is wary of a marriage that might see her reduced to the role of full time carer. Yet she sympathises with our hero's plight and provides a conduit for audience sympathy. Scenes of drunken foolishness and scuffles performed in a choreographed comic style reminiscent of Harold Lloyd also help to endear us to the characters.

In terms of structure, the film suffers from a meandering approach that misses opportunities to build expectations or create tension. This leaves it free to develop a more sophisticated ending than we might expect, but there's still a sense that it doesn't quite know where it wants to go. There's a lot of good material that never quite amounts to as much as it should, but this is still a broadly enjoyable film with significant audience appeal.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2011
Share this with others on...
When his daughter says she will live with whichever of her divorcing parents can give her a piano, a former steelworker enlists his old colleagues and workplace facilities to make one.
Amazon link

Director: Zhang Meng, Jae-young Kwak

Writer: Zhang Meng

Starring: Wang Qian-Yuan, Hailu Qin, Shin-Yeong Jang

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: China


Glasgow 2011

Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Full Monty