Wang Bing’s film-making works to chronicle the economic transformation that has taken place in China in recent decades, a form of hyper-capitalism caused by economic growth that follows on from the crisis of communism and which, paradoxically, goes hand in hand with increased social inequality and climate collapse. In Crude Oil he shines a light on the link between labour and environmental exploitation as he films the working day in an oil field in the Gobi Desert, north-west China.
In his films, Wang Bing documents the contradictions of industrial China, reproducing the changes that have occurred in the country since the communism crisis and economic openness made it one of the engines of the world economy. Further, he addresses two major issues: on one side, he reflects on dispossession and the suffering caused by globalisation and rampant capitalism, and, on the other, approaches the memory of the excluded, political and economic dissidents, those who have been marginalised by this system of progress.
In Crude Oil, he shows us China’s growing economic dependency on oil and the effects of the oil industry on the globalised world by way of a documentary with a fourteen-hour running time, in which filmic time evolves in parallel to real time. The film-maker shoots a working day — from morning to night — in an oil field located in an expanding mining area that lives off the exportation of fossil fuels, metals and materials. Almost clandestinely, he introduces us to the private life of the characters, survivors of the system, captured by the film-maker not only at work and but also during their downtime, eating and resting in their rooms as they discuss politics and corruption and devour TV series. In its vast longitude, the long shots that show the dissatisfaction and precarious conditions of labour combine with beautiful sequences of the infrastructure and machinery in the oil field, the operators and a landscape transformed and razed by exploitation; in short, the ordinary rhythms of life during the extraction of black gold from the earth.