Bram Ruiter’s review published on Letterboxd :
First full-length Jia Zhangke I've seen and man, was it a doozy.
I spent my teenage years in a small town in The Netherlands where someone was smart enough to build a shanty in the middle of nowhere, far away to not cause a distrubance and close enough to have it become a hotspot. It was government regulated (so there were adults there keeping an eye on things), but it was our place. We decorated it with the couches we found, the TV we bought and the PlayStation 2 a friend owned. Then someone would have an idea, and suddenly tasks would open up: the bar had to be tended, the parties had to be PA'd and the graffiti workshops had to be produced. It kept us busy, and it taught us thing, something to do in a town where there was generally nothing to do. This shanty gave us purpose (with added social control).
The conservative town didn't understand that this bane of their existence was keeping us from wreaking havoc in their frontyards, so when the railway station had to be upgraded, our shanty was replaced by a cunstruction company. Shortly after, the parties would move to unregulated living rooms and devolve into a complete lack of purpose.
I was lucky to have found a passion early on in life, to drag myself through and eventually out of that small-town mud, but many weren't as lucky. They would turn to drugs, using and selling, trying to maintain their dead-end jobs which over time were replaced by deader ends, all the while bored out of their minds because they lacked purpose. And I believe that shanty could've saved a lot of very talented people.
The people (and yes they are people) in Unknown Pleasures remind me of them, these unsaved souls. We've not known the relentless poverty, but I have seen a lot of that boredom, the seeming inescapability of it all, the aimlesness, self-destruction preceded by the lack of progress as well as those paralyzing concepts of Ambition and Expectation.
Unknown Pleasures handles these subjects with so much understanding, observing rather than condemning, never falling into the preachy or sentimental trappings of other movies set in the low(er) economic class. Zhangke seems to understand that the demise is self-perpetuated, but stems from a deeper socio-economic issue, alienating its inhabitants and being the cause (or root) of their actions. And it's the most honest I've seen a movie be about all of this, which made this very hard to write about without involving a lot of my own youth into this review. I wish we could've screened it, back when the shanty was still up. It might've not connected immediately, but it could've given us some hope in the eye of the overwhelming amount of hopelesness seen here.