Review of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

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A documentary that chronicles artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and gets into a rising number of clashes with the Chinese government.
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Movie Review: "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry"

-- Rating: R
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2012
Directed by: Alison Klayman
Genre: Documentary

Art undoubtedly has caused clashes between people and governments in the past, and this movie explores one artist's struggle against the government's disapproval of his art. Using actual footage, the documentary follows the artist as he makes social statements that threaten his very wellbeing in China. From start to finish, the film allows viewers to explore the world of an artist who is regarded as being dangerous to those in Chinese politics.

This feature-length film focuses on Ai Weiwei, a renowned Chinese artist who is known for activism and his artistic pieces. The story helps viewers understand how artistic practices and social activism can be seen through the life of the contemporary artist, who often deals with public clashes of interest with the Chinese government. His goal, through all of his activism, is to make sure his son has a better life, and this film was created over two years to help provide that very thing.

Between 2008 and 2010, journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman followed Ai Weiwei while he prepared for major exhibitions of his work, participated in family life, and battled the government. Parts of the movie show the dangerous situations Ai Weiwei is put in through his choice to show the world the truth about the Chinese government and culture through his art. From calming interviews with family to threatening moments, the documentary is like no other.

Ai Weiwei is well known for his 2008 structure, "Bird Nest," which was used in the Beijing Olympics. Prior to this, Ai Weiwei was already gaining social media attention, so the documentary focuses on his present work and attitude. The documentary explores various areas of culture and Ai Weiwei's family, and the film includes many interviews from the people who surround Ai Weiwei. As a popular artist, Ai Weiwei has achieved even greater prominence after the 2008 Olympics. Taking part in a large celebration like the Olympics helped him skyrocket to a level of fame that has even the Chinese government scrambling to keep him quiet.

Ai Weiwei produces art with a social statement on a regular basis; this is one way that he can get his thoughts about his life and what happens socially in China out in the open. He produced some pieces of art that included dropping 2,000-year-old urns from the Han Dynasty, which caused a bit of an uproar. For those who watch and love antiques, this might be a shattering moment, but it was not without a reason. After the fact, he explained that it was a statement about how the city of Beijing has been torn apart and painted over with new developments, covering up the rich culture and history that it used to provide. In other words, shattering a 2,000-year-old urn should be no different than painting over architecture from thousands of years ago, yet that does not come under fire.

Ai Weiwei is a painter, sculptor, muralist, and spokesperson against the oppression of the Chinese by their own government. This has gotten him in trouble more than once, and his life is not always easy. Moments during the documentary make you truly fear for his safety.

As far as documentaries go, this story is a compelling tale that will encourage viewers to take an interest in political activism, if only for the timespan of the movie. Through art, Ai Weiwei has told stories about the things that the Chinese government has tried to cover up; his art is one way that he can express that the Chinese deserve more from their government than to be oppressed and held back from the modern world. The government went as far as to shut down the Internet and to do as much as possible to keep Ai Weiwei quiet; this alone is something that should make the movie interesting to viewers. Through some parts, he is only able to communicate to his followers through Twitter, a social media outlet. Through this method, he is able to release terrifying ideas of how the government and government brutality are still used today.

An educational film, this documentary is sometimes entertaining, frightening, and emotional, making it a film that is best viewed by adults. Children are not likely to understand the film, and it has frightening moments and statements that aren't suited to young audience members. This film is one to watch, though, especially for those interested in politics and the world.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars