Jeremy Heilman’s review:
In 2004, I wrote:
[The opening sequences, with their much-improved visual sensibility and irresistible setting, seem to promise something new from Jia, but this is really more of the same. Like Platform, it follows a troupe of actors who serve as bellwethers for the state of Chinese society. This is as up-to-the-minute as any of the director's previous features, and as a result the characters this time aren't left behind by the conversion to capitalism so much as they're seen as disposable commodities that can easily be traded in for a younger model should they malfunction. This is might be a better film than I am giving it credit for, and I begrudge no one who thinks the world of it, but it seemed too bloated and superficial a look at the current Chinese situation to me.]
I was a tad too harsh, especially in calling the film superficial, but it certainly is bloated. Most of its brilliance seems to be front-loaded. After Little Sister is killed, the narrative grinds to a halt, which is surely supposed to make us all lament the characters' stasis, but that hardly makes it involving.