One of several exports from China at this year’s Sheffield DocFest, this story of two separate Chinese bloggers who rove around the country doing a kind of gonzo journalism is interesting and really nicely put together, but ultimately a little unsatisfying.
The two chosen protagonists – who use the internet pseudonyms Zola and Tiger Temple respectively – are both highly likeable, coming from poor backdrops and attempting to make a difference to their country. Zola is the younger of the two, and is infinitely more self-obsessed, constantly taking pictures of himself while on his travels and eventually turning these into posters for his blogging conferences. Tiger Temple seems almost selfless, having lost his marriage several years ago, he now devotes his time to giving blogging coverage to farmers who are suffering from government neglect.
Aside from the two characters being able to carry the film, it also works as a look at the current state of censorship in China. This is a highly interesting topic, because it seems particularly difficult to gauge how rife censorship still is in the Communist republic even in the age of the internet. The various encounters with ministry officials are tense and intriguing, displaying that the two bloggers are still taking risks by trying to bring news outside of the mainstream media to the public.
Unfortunately, this aspect of the film never feels particularly explored. It’s almost as if the filmmakers were afraid to pry too much, preferring instead to tread the line carefully and to not risk being censored themselves.
Regardless, it contains enough to keep your attention throughout. China seems like such a fascinating country and the cultural differences are still drastic enough for it to represent a wealth of potential for documentary filmmakers.
The film actually comes with a little DocFest context of its own. In a controversial move, after a request to withdraw this film from the programme (along with Ai Weiwei : Never Story), was denied by the festival organisers, delegates from China were withdrawn from attending. I think I speak for most of us when I applaud those in power at DocFest for not caving in to the pressure put upon them.
High Tech, Low Life is not a revolution, but it’s very pleasant to watch, nicely paced and well-filmed.