“Youth (Spring)” is also centered on garment manufacture, depicting two workshops making children’s clothing. Both are located in Zhili City, one on a street called Happiness Road. Like the title of this movie, there’s a substantial irony here. But aside from these two components, Wang doesn’t strike much of an overt tone in the filmmaking here. He does keep things moving. Shots are mostly static but don’t turn into marathons before a cut. There are plenty of characters, some of whom are introduced hours into the movie. As the film’s title suggests, these workers are young. The oldest, I believe, is 32-year-old Xiang Xiang, the speediest stitcher of the lot.
The movie begins with some amiable banter, a stitching competition, and a depiction of how the workday blends into a night spent in a dorm, a residence for which the term “nondescript” would be an elaborate compliment. Occasional glimpses outside reveal gray skies and trash-strewn streets. The days and nights start to blur into each other.
The viewer may latch onto some early narrative threads. One of the workers, Li Shengnan, is pregnant with the child of her co-worker. Will they keep the baby? As the picture continues, the viewer realizes we might not find out. Wang doesn’t exactly flit from story to story. He aims to aggregate individual moments and the repetition of certain conflicts (mainly concerning pay, naturally) to not bring the viewer into a web of intrigue but to lock the viewer in the same loop as the workers. It’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s an illuminating one.
Even the ostensible off hours provide little escape. One of the most confounding scenes is when a young woman tries to get something done at an uninviting Internet café only to endure a lecture from a bro about how keeping such late hours is bad for your skin. Eventually, she falls asleep at the desk.
The workshop manager who upbraids the workers almost midway through isn’t even designated by name, which may have been the individual’s choice, but also says something about how even the bosses in this labor hierarchy are mere cogs.