The short film Old Boy (with English subtitles) by the Chopstick Brothers is a good example of a growing attitude of frustration over the growing pressure of modern life.
One of the recurrent themes in China is that life is getting harder. Jobs are hard to get. Everything, most notably housing, but extending to school, medicine, even groceries, is too expensive. Even getting married is difficult, what with a house and a job often considered prerequisites.
In this environment, It seems there is a growing sense of frustration and resentment, especially among young people. I resist the idea of calling it a mood, maybe a trope, maybe something more intellectual like ‘cultural touchstone.’ Call it what you will, but there is a definite sense that life is hard.
Old Boy, released on the internet this summer, follows a group of high school classmates from their youth in the 80s through their lives today. Including school hijinx, Michael Jackson, unemployment, unrequited love, and a singing contest, it does a good job putting a human face on big themes in modern Chinese life.
It also expresses a strong sense that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The characters all end up unhappy and unfulfilled. Professionally they either have a mundane job, or have compromised their morals for money. Romantically they are married to the wrong person, or utterly alone. Even Michael Jackson becomes a symbol of the corrupted and crumbling promise of modern life.
The video is interestingly shot and a pretty good laugh. It’s creators, the Chopstick Brothers, also make music videos. All together, Old Boy presents the attitude that China’s development is at best bittersweet.