Mall of Us Strangers

All, Or Nothing At All

Jiajun Zhang’s All, or Nothing At All (2023) infuses its featherweight diptych of would-be lovers with a panoply of postmodern touchstones. Confined almost entirely within the walls of the Global Harbour shopping complex in Shanghai, the architectural hegemony of globalisation yields familiar strains of ennui within dual network narratives. 

Zhang’s media literacy is both a bug and a feature, imbuing his winsome parables with a knowing irony that sometimes feels like an affectation.

The two stories, re-ordered in separately issued versions, feature the same cast playing characters with similar names yet disparate temperaments. In All, Yoyo (Chen Xiaoyi) is a listless artist who reconnects with Lan Tian (An Yu), a dance teacher embroiled in an extramarital affair with an older woman named Perry (Liang Cuishan). Nothing At All reconfigures Lan Tian as an amateur filmmaker who meets Yoyo, in this timeline a perfume seller under the stern supervision of Perry. 

The film’s conceit — with two halves presented in either order — is clever. The lasting emphasis shifts between experienced and digitally preserved memory in both versions, with commodified reconstitutions of snowfall symbolically encapsulating bittersweet yearning. Zhang’s oscillation between various camera setups, from cell phones to high-definition footage, demonstrates an innate understanding of the medium’s porous function in disseminating and depriving these signifiers of their intimacy. 

For all of its aesthetic confidence, the minimalism of Zhang’s and Hee Young Pyun’s script can’t help but make their thesis of contemporary malaise seem overly redolent of Antonioni, Jia and Yang. Yet Zhang’s romanticism is not without its beguiling pleasures, not least of which lies in the expansive implications offered by two versions whose endings couldn’t be called entirely “sentimental”. In any timeline, the fragile yet tenacious possibility of reclaiming one’s identity in late capitalism isn’t entirely foreclosed.

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Nick Kouhi is a programmer and critic based in Minneapolis, Minnesota