Sunday, April 6, 2014

DIFF 2014 Review: WEB JUNKIE- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia
Synopsis: A documentary detailing how China is dealing with its teens addicted to internet gaming. 

WEB JUNKIE plays again on 4/8 at 1:30pm at The Angelika in theatre 8.

Our world feels almost overrun with technology. Look at any busy restaurant and most of the people have their nose in their phone or tablet. In China, there's a growing problem, according to some, with teenagers spending countless amounts of hours gaming online. It's becoming such a problem that there are military-style rehabilitation centers in which parents send their kids to break their addiction.

In a suburb of Beijing, the Daxing bootcamp is a popular destination for parents to send their teens. China has declared that internet addiction a public health crisis. The film shows the ins and outs of the facility, including drills and therapy sessions, but we never get to see these kids before or after their "treatment". The best parts of the film include candid conversations the kids have, when they're on a free-time-type part of their day, and recount the various games they played or hours they spent on the internet. One boy use to average about ten hours a day on World of Warcraft, which another tells of a him he played for 15 days straight, roughly 300 hours, and only paused when he took a nap in his chair. And here I thought I spent too much time online.

Another layer to this film is the Chinese culture and how high expectations parents set for their children. Almost every phone conversation and therapy session ends in tears because these kids don't feel like they'll ever be good enough. Also, most of these kids don't have siblings, so they look for that companionship online because it's easier to escape to than reality.

One downfall of the film is that there's no sense of time. How long do these kids stay here? At what point are they considered "cured"? Through countless hours of therapy and drills, at what point does the addiction go away. One boy hit the nail on the head about his treatment, "They want to destroy old beliefs to make new ones." It's a classic battle of an older generation trying to mold the Millennials.

WEB JUNKIE is a fascinating look at how one country is dealing with internet addicted teenagers. But it delves into deeper issues of a teen's struggle to feel accepted. We're not given a glimpse of what happens after these kids leave this place, so it would be interesting to follow up months later and see how effective these places really are.

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