A World without Thieves

A World without Thieves

dir. Feng Xiaogang, 2005, China


Roots (傻根, “Shagen”), name means the root or origin of stupidity or foolishness; an orphan and farmer boy from Henan Province who went to Tibet as a hired hand in temple renovation projects when 16; during 5 years there, often feels lonely and when guarding the work site at night would talk to wolves that never harm him; at 21 and with 60,000 yuan saved, decides to go home to start a family with TV and farming animals; noted for his incredible naivete of which no ordinary person is capable; believes that there are no thieves in the world and, worse, that he is able to carry all his money on a long train ride home rather than wiring it through postal service; has no concept of evil and no knowledge of self-preservation, always kind-hearted and ready to offer money and blood to the needy, with absolutely no idea of how many people on the train intend to steal from him

Wang Bo, 王博, a highly accomplished and skillful thief with very little scruple when it comes to pickpocketing; steals even in Tibetan Buddhist temples from pious pilgrims; with dark cynicism and a twisted sense of integrity as a thief who plays by the rules of the game in a world in which only the fittest survive; naturally refers to his preys as sheep and himself as a wolf or a passing ghost with no conscience and only money as goal in life; works best when alone but has strong emotional tie to his female partner in crime, Wang Li, especially when she reveals her pregnancy by him, which makes him reconsider his life and his possible role as a father; acts differently toward the money of Roots whom his girlfriend calls “brother”; for the sake of his unborn child, fights off attempts on his (Roots) money by other thieves on the train even when his own life is at great risk
Wang Li, 王丽, Wang Bo’s girlfriend and partner who has risked her life for him; uses herself as a sex trap to exact money and property from married men afraid of scandals; wants to quit stealing when pregnant; splits with Wang Bo briefly and runs into Roots who gives her a talisman to safeguard her from evil spirits and demons; afraid of retribution and bad karma, feels duty-bound to protect Roots’ money as if on which a better future life for her child depends; when rejoined by Wang Bo, acts as his conscience and reminds him things like Roots and the unborn child that are reasons for stopping theft; once the child is born, abandons it in a Buddhist temple to be picked up by Tibetans who would give a new life to her next life, far away from greed
Hu Li 胡黎, (pun on the word 狸 “fox”), a gangster wanted by the police for life and leader of a group of reasoned thieves who call him “Uncle Fox” 狸叔; with skills superior to that of Wang Bo; likes talent almost more than money; hopes to use the train ride as an exercise for his apprentices whom he rules by rules he lays down for them; wants to recruit Wang Bo but wonders if he is a “shepherd” or “wolf”; intrigued and enraged by his men’s repeated and unsuccessful attempts to hunt Roots’ 60,000; grudgingly admires Wang Bo’s talent which makes it almost impossible for anyone to lay his hand on Roots’ money; despite heavy police presence on the train, has a final show down with Wang who would rather die than let him escape with money stolen from Roots; arrested by police in the end
Leaf (叶子, Ye Zi), Hu Li’s favorite apprentice and lover; makes a couple of unsuccessful attempts to steal Roots money, partially because she is attracted to Wang Bo guarding the money; no match for Wang in skill and in wit; arrested by police in the end
Four Eyes (四眼, a derogatory term for bespectacled people)one of the wolves in Hu Li’s pack; loyalty exceeds his ability; has one of his fingers cut to half by Hu after he fails his contest of encourage with Wang Bo; arrested in the end by police
Number Two (老二, Lao Er), also one of the wolves in Hu Li’s pack for five years; thinks he is too smart for his boss and joins another gang on the train that attempts armed robbery against the passengers; arrested by police in the end
Mr. Liu, 刘警官, general manager of the theft Division in the police force; on the train to follow Wang Bo and Wang Li for theft and other crimes they have committed earlier; wallet stolen by Wang Bo; soon figures out what is going on with the Wangs sitting next to Roots to guard his money; to protect the much coveted bag of money, manages to substitute the content for fake money for the dead before it is stolen by Hu Li; feels touched by the great length that the Wangs have gone to protect Roots; five months later when he finds escapee Wang Li, big with child, decides to let her go free


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