A World Without Thieves is one of the greatest Chinese film that is far too often ignored by moviegoers. Directed by Feng Xiaogang in 2004 and starring Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs), Li Bingbing (The Forbidden Kingdom), Wang Baoqiang (A Touch of Sin), Ge You (To Live), and René Liu. The film is inspired by Zhao Benfu’s 1999 novelette. The story almost entirely takes place aboard a train leaving Tibet for inland China.
The dim-witted main character, Root in the English translation or Sha Gen in Mandarin, is seen by others as simplistic for his belief in the inherent goodness of man. He believes so purely that he declares there are no thieves in the train, unfortunately for him this train has seemingly nothing but thieves. As the plot becomes beautifully entangled and unravels itself in an elegant dance with the viewer a debate rages about the goodness of man. Is it naive to believe with every fiber of your being in the goodness of people? Or is the world so cynical and uncompassionate that it teaches us it is wrong to have faith in people? Is it selfish to protect oneself by assuming people are ill-intentioned? Or is it prudent to be cautious in a corrupted world?
In the end each character must define for themselves how much goodness exists in humanity and how much faith or trust is to be placed in said goodness. The main character gives a clever story that summarizes the state of humanity. He mentioned that he spent winters in the Tibetan wilderness surrounded by wolves who never once harmed, so how can humans? If humans harm him by the end of the film then we as a society are worse than savage wolves which is a sobering realization. If no harm comes by the end of the film, then mistrust is not prudence but a construct that teaches us to fear each other when in reality we fear the possibility of pain so we close ourselves off to a world of possibilities. The film is poignant and praiseworthy, with phenomenal acting, pristine cinematography, and a philosophical soundtrack. All of this makes A World Without Thieves stand out and ultimately deserving of the Best Foreign Film Awardsie.