Argentum is part of Li xiaofei’s Assembly Line series. The film was shot in Dongchuan, a small town 180 km from Kunming. Ten years ago, in order to attract foreign investment, Dongchuan officially became a district of Kunming, thus giving it access to preferential policies. The government leveled off the tops of several mountains in order to build smelting operations, to grow the economy. Following this, a kind of natural phenomena appeared where smoke would mix with aerosols in a billowing spectacle. The environment is strongly polluted and the land could not be farmed. Because of poor technology, the factory didn’t earn enough benefit to operate fully; therefore, their income is very low. Everyone has no choice but to struggle through this strange phenomenon—this vicious cycle.
The Assembly Line series examines the complex relationships between man and machine, management and labor, the individual and the society, as well as the questions of modernity. Li Xiaofei uses his unique documentary technique to combine interviews and scenery in the film. Compared to Li Xiaofei’s other films, Argentum has more complex narrative. Through different perspectives, the workers, the factory owner, the officers, Li Xiaofei presents the dilemma of the desire of the growth of economy and the repercussions on the natural environment, which is the biggest problem of the development of today’s villages in China.
Li Xiaofei initiated Assembly Line in 2010, an ongoing project that records industrialized social change not only China, but as it occurs internationally. “Jindu” Gold City, “Yindu” Silver City, “Tongdu” Copper City, and “Niedu” Nickel City are just few of the many cities in China named after the minerals and metals that are mined and produced there. Li Xiaofei travelled across the country to shoot over 100 factories across China, while initiating dialogue and exchange with people of different positions within the assembly line. Through this documentation process, Li Xiaofei explores what lies beyond the orderliness of the assembly line, the capitalist factory, consumer society, social progress and social morals—the reality of people living in a highly systematic and institutionalized environment. He employed a "real time" shooting technique which was difficult to control, combined with the language of documentary and a fragmented interwoven approach to create a mutual restructuring and a transformation of the relationship between man and machine, in essence to reconstruct an illusory reality.