×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Web Junkie’

A bizarre and entertaining documentary about China's attempts to reprogram its Internet-addicted youth.

With:

Wang Yuchao, Xi Wang, Gao Qunce, Tao Ran. (Mandarin dialogue)

Set in the first nation to classify Web addiction as a clinical diagnosis, “Web Junkie” takes a look at the Chinese government’s attempt to stem this “No. 1 public health threat to teenagers” via rehabilitation camps, where such afflicted youth (apparently mostly boys) are subjected to a mix of traditional therapy and militaristic discipline. From what we see, these rather old-school attempts to address a very 21st-century problem are none too successful. But with filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia granted extraordinary access to one facility, they make for a bizarre and entertaining documentary that should appeal to fest programmers and arts/educational broadcasters around the globe.

This particular center on the outskirts of Beijing is among more than 400 built so far to treat “troubled” teens. Of course, they don’t think they’ve got a problem, even if some confess to going days on end without food or sleep to play “World of War,” neglecting their studies,  lying to their parents to sneak off to the Internet cafe, etc. But the elephant in the room appears to be a generation gap: Parents raised in strict service to the Communist Party, family and work are utterly baffled by their disrespectful offspring, whose exposure to other cultures and consumerist values online makes those priorities seem boring or irrelevant.

Nonetheless, all this is taken very seriously by the adults — albeit much less so by the youngsters, who abide by the facility’s rules only because it makes life easier and will probably get them home faster. It’s hard not to wince (and laugh) when one boy, asked “What did you do (to be sent here)?” sobs, “I used the Internet!” Certainly none of them fit a Western notion of delinquency beyond standard adolescent rebelliousness. As the gap widens between this society’s interest in controlling a conformist population, and the encouragement toward free (if often frivolous) thought that Internet access spurs, China faces a crisis: How can it continue to globalize its economy without the next generation of citizens globalizing themselves?

The group therapy sessions we see between children and parents seem a genuine if sometimes clunky attempt at bridge building. On the other hand, some of the instruction feels as corny to the kids as it does to us, cautioning that the Internet is “electronic heroin” and that friendships with other alienated kids online are illusory. Nor does it help that most of the residents have been tricked, drugged and/or physically forced to come here, pitting them further against their parents. When we see the seemingly average, personable teens talk among themselves in their dorm rooms, their bonding under adversity and ridiculing of the program don’t suggest major behavior modification is imminent. As they see it, the world their elders live in is the real problem. “Reality is too fake,” one says.

The brisk, lively technical package is well turned in all departments.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Web Junkie'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 19, 2014. Running time: 79 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary — Israel-U.S.) A Schlam Prods. and Know Prods. presentation in association with Yes Docu, Impact Partners, Warrior Poets, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Tribeca Gucci, New Foundation for Film and TV. (International sales: Dogwoof, London.) Produced by Hilla Medalia, Shosh Shlam, Neta Zwebner-Zaiberg. Executive producers, Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Eve Ensler.

Crew:

Directed by Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia. Camera (color, HD), Sun Shaogang; editor, Enat Sidi; music, Ran Bagno; sound, Li Zhe. 

With:

Wang Yuchao, Xi Wang, Gao Qunce, Tao Ran. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content