‘Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry' documentary sheds light on activist and his Chinese homeland

"AI WEI WEI: Never Sorry" is a documentary that ends while the story is still happening.

Its subject, artist and Chinese-transparency activist Ai Wei Wei, is still a vital figure politically and artistically, but the open-endedness of Alison Klayman's feature-length debut gives the story an immediacy and urgency rarely present in biographical documentaries.

Ai Weiwei : Seeds of art

Klayman profiles Wei Wei from his childhood in China to his 20s as an art student in New York in the 1980s and through his current larger-than-life status as a carefully crafted Internet persona with a cause.

People call him fearless, but he says he challenges the Chinese government because he's incredibly fearful. He uses his celebrity as a way to keep himself safe from the reach of the state by creating art critical of it.

But even an international celebrity is not safe. As the documentary progresses, the Chinese government creeps in on Wei Wei. His studio is monitored by cameras, he's beaten up by police for attempting to testify for another activist, and his studio is destroyed. Eventually, he's incarcerated for 81 days with no sense of when he will be released.

Part of the credit for the documentary's watchability goes to Wei Wei himself. He's casual and funny, and his rabble-rousing personality never seems like a put-on facade. He makes you understand why the Chinese people have fallen in love with him and, in effect, why the Chinese government is so terrified of his reach.


Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or eichelm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at philly.com/entertainment.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Directed by Alison Klayman. With Evan Osnos, Ai Weiwei, Inserk Yang, Yanping Liu, Tehching Hsieh, Ying Gao, Huang Hung, Changwei Gu, Danqing Chen, Zuzhou Zuoxiao. Distributed by IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 30 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for some language).