Melbourne, Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

Web Junkie, MIFF 2014

1 Comment 06 August 2014

With content that borders on mind-boggling, Web Junkie sees directors Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam granted unprecedented access to an internet addiction treatment centre for teenagers in Daxing, a district of Beijing. Here they explore the Chinese government’s attitude towards what they have classified as ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’ in its teenagers.

Web Junkie is shot unobtrusively, granting the audience a probing and ultimately disheartening glimpse into both the centre and the wider issue at hand. The patient pool is made up almost entirely of isolated teenage boys. With some playing World of Warcraft in internet cafes for upwards of ten hours straight and threatening suicide when their computer is at risk of being taken away, they log on to escape the ‘fake’ reality they exist in. The real issue of Web Junkie is not problematic internet use. Instead, it emerges as a symptom of a massive generational gap between isolated children and their frustrated parents, who deem them disrespectful and ungrateful. The young people, lonely in a single-child-policy country and overwhelmed by parental pressures to get good grades, find themselves disengaged from their depressing realities and turning to the internet.

The inherent ridiculousness of the situation is obvious to any outsider looking in. The dogma and junk science being espoused by the clinicians and facility staff (likening the internet to heroin) and the tears and frustration of the boys are sometimes so alien to the audience that it prompts laughter. Indeed, there was definitely a sense of dark comedy to Web Junkie, stemming from both the situation (one boy sobbing while confessing, “I used the internet!”) and the compensatory sarcastic jibes from the boys. Laughter gives way to sadness, however, in the more tender moments of Web Junkie, such as family therapy scenes between the parents and their children that are a hundred times more engrossing than the rest of the footage.

For a documentary that deals with such unique and perplexing subject matter, Web Junkie seems to represent a missed opportunity to comment more firmly on a ridiculous practice that is so obviously a governmental band-aiding of a wider cultural issue. However, it does instil a sense of puzzlement in its audience, so perhaps the goal here is awareness and not condemnation. Even if it does feel as though Web Junkie falls short in being a fully realised and provocative exploration of an extremely interesting topic, it succeeds in painting a surprisingly comic and heartfelt example of a generational gap left to fester.

3/5 stars


  1. Melbourne International Film Festival 2014 | ali von schnabel - August 8, 2014

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This post was written by who has written 14 posts on Buzzcuts.

Alexandra Schnabel exclusively watches high-concept documentaries, arthouse films and Law and Order: SVU re-runs (Stabler era only). She reviews two of three here sometimes.

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