Ai Weiwei exists on the border of all things. This Chinese artist is presented in the documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” as a man who operates outside of the system, both in the art world and the political arena, and yet is deeply involved in each. This has not only allowed him to operate as an outspoken artist, activist and individual in a Communist society, but also kept him alive.
Weiwei is a modern Chinese artist who has amassed a global following by taking to the web and to Twitter because his own nation has censored his free speech. He became famous for designing the Bird’s Nest Stadium as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it ironically also gave him the power and cultural influence necessary to criticize the government that established him.
Now he’s noted for his alternative, yet straight forward and forthright artwork. One piece is a photograph of him giving the finger to Tiananmen Square. Another piece has his entire staff reciting “Fuck You Motherland” in various Chinese dialects. A third is him shattering an ancient Chinese urn from the 7th Century, a simple reminder that this desecration of history happens every day without anyone thinking about it.
After an earthquake ravaged China and left thousands dead, many of them not accounted for by the government, Weiwei took action and made a series of documentaries intended to shine a light on China’s lack of effort. This is the sort of work that is in your face and shocking, but not pretentious or inclusive. And like its subject, “Never Sorry” is a flashy documentary, but ultimately direct in its careful historical documenting.
What Director Alison Klayman is quick to notice is that other journalists and activists have disappeared for less than what Weiwei has said. She walks a careful line in portraying Weiwei as the forward-thinking genius that he is without glorifying him to the point that he’ll be in danger.
But Weiwei walks that treacherous line enough himself. After being beaten by government thugs to prevent him from testifying at a hearing, Weiwei decides to make a stand by simply filing a complaint. He knows full well that the system is broken and that his request will go nowhere. But it’s important to work within the system to show just how flawed it is.
“Never Sorry” paints Weiwei as someone with gigantic resonance and influence around the globe. His actions and elicited reactions have made him a symbol, a martyr, and to some in China, something of a god. But all the same, both the film and the man recognize that his reach is limited. Weiwei has been beaten, censored, watched and financially harmed. It’s the avatar that has all the influence, and above all this film shows that in this day and age anyone can be just as powerful and expressive as he.
3 ½ stars