Film Review: Web Junkies

A startling look at China’s Internet addiction centers.
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China has declared that “Internet addiction” is a clinical disorder. It is called “electronic heroin,” befitting the seriousness of the malady. To counter this spreading malaise, the Chinese government has established a network of rehab centers to “reform” the “junkies.”

Filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia probe this phenomenon in Web Junkie, jarring viewers with an inside look at one of these “reform” centers, as well as shedding light on the mindset of these Internet “addicts.”

The usual suspects: lonely, introverted teenage boys. The motive: virtual reality exceeds their humdrum lives. Characteristically, they are alienated from their parents and, thanks to China’s one-child law, they have no siblings. In short, this so-called “Internet addiction” is both a social phenomenon and obsessive disorder.

The social and personal life of these “addicts” is embedded in the Web. On the Internet, they can triumph and establish relationships, which they seem incapable of doing in “real” life. In this provocative film, we see the centers are, essentially, boot camps. The facilities are a combination jail and military barracks. The “patients” wear camouflage-style uniforms and are regimented. Their rehab is relentless: a grueling mix of exercise, discussions and, on occasion, meetings with staff and parents.

Not surprisingly, most are hostile to the degradation, which only seems to intensify their dissatisfaction with the “real” world. While Web Junkie reboots to a “happy” ending—one inmate leaves the compound, presumably cured—we can only expect that the rate of recidivism will be high for this dubious “cure.”

The Hollywood Reporter

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