Jia Zhangke

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Jia Zhangke
Jia Zhang-Ke Skipcity DCF 2005.jpg
Jia in 2005
Born (1970-05-24) 24 May 1970 (age 51)
Citizenship China
Education Beijing Film Academy
Occupation Film director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active1995–present
Zhu Jiong
(m. 1999;div. 2006)

(m. 2012)
Awards Venice Film FestivalGolden Lion
2006 Still Life
Asian Film AwardsBest Director
2006 Still Life
Best Screenplay
2015 Mountains May Depart
Golden Horse AwardsBest Original Screenplay
2015 Mountains May Depart

Jia Zhangke (Chinese :贾樟柯; pinyin :Jiǎ Zhāngkē, born 24 May 1970) is a Chinese film director and screenwriter. He is generally regarded as a leading figure of the "Sixth Generation" movement of Chinese cinema, a group that also includes such figures as Wang Xiaoshuai, Lou Ye, Wang Quan'an and Zhang Yuan. [1]


Jia's early films, a loose trilogy based in his home province of Shanxi, were made outside of China's state-run film bureaucracy, and therefore are considered "underground" films. Beginning in 2004, Jia's status in his own country rose when he was allowed to direct his fourth feature film, The World , with state approval.

Jia's films have received critical praise and have been recognized internationally, notably winning the Venice Film Festival's top award Golden Lion for Still Life . NPR critic John Powers praised him as "(perhaps) the most important filmmaker working in the world today." [2]

Early life

Jia Zhangke was born in Fenyang, Shanxi, China. His interest in film began in the early 1990s, as an art student at the Shanxi University in Taiyuan. On a lark, Jia attended a screening of Chen Kaige's masterpiece, Yellow Earth . The film, according to Jia, was life changing, and convinced the young man that he wanted to be a director. [3] :185 Jia would eventually make it to China's prestigious Beijing Film Academy in 1993, as a film theory major, giving him access to both western and eastern classics, as well as an extensive film library. [3] :185


Early work

While a student at the Beijing Film Academy, Jia would make three short films to hone his skills. The first, a ten-minute short documentary on tourists in Tiananmen Square entitled One Day in Beijing, was made in 1994 on self-raised funds. [3] :186 Though Jia has referred to his first directorial effort as inconsequential and "naive", he also described the short day and a half shoot as "excitement...difficult to express in words." [3] :187 But it was Jia's second directorial effort, the short film Xiao Shan Going Home (1995), that would bring him to the attention of the film world. It was a film that helped establish Jia's style and thematic interests and, in Jia's words, was a film that "truly marks the beginning of my career as a filmmaker." [3] :188Xiao Shan would eventually screen abroad where it won a top prize at the 1997 Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards. [1] More significantly, the film's success brought Jia in contact with cinematographer Yu Lik-wai and producer Li Kit Ming, [1] two men who along with producer/editor Chow Keung would come to form Jia Zhangke's "core...creative team." [3] :186–187 With their support, Jia was able to begin work on Xiao Wu , which would become his first feature film. Before graduating, however, Jia would make one more short film, Du Du (1996), a film about a female college student faced with several life-changing decisions. The film, little seen and rarely available, was for Jia an exercise of experimentation and technique, as it was filmed without a script. [3] :189 For Jia, the film was an important learning experience, even if he was "not terribly proud" of the end result. [3] :189

Underground success

Upon graduation, Jia embarked on his first feature-length film, with producer Li Kit Ming and cinematographer Yu Lik-wai. Xiao Wu, a film about a pickpocket in Jia's native Fenyang, emerged from Jia's desire to capture the massive changes that had happened to his home in the past few years. [3] :191 Additionally, the film was a rejection of what Jia felt was the fifth generation's increasing tendency to move away from the reality of modern China and into the realm of historical legend. [3] :192 Shot on a mere 400,000 RMB budget (or about US$50,000), [1] Xiao Wu would prove to be a major success on the international film circuit, bringing Jia a deal with Takeshi Kitano's production house. [1]

Jia capitalized on his success with Xiao Wu with a two internationally acclaimed independent features. The first, Platform , was partially funded in 1998 through the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) of the Busan (Pusan) International Film Festival when Jia received the Hubert Bals Fund Award (HBF) for his project. (Ahn, Soo Jeong, The Pusan Film Festival, South Korean Cinema and Globalization, 2012, 104-105). Platform was a three-hour epic about a provincial dance and music troupe transitioning from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The film has been called the masterpiece of the entire sixth generation movement. [4] [5] Starring Wang Hongwei, Jia's classmate and star of Xiao Shan Going Home and Xiao Wu, Platform was also the first of Jia's films to star actress Zhao Tao, a former dance teacher. Zhao would go on to serve as Jia's muse as the lead female role in Unknown Pleasures, The World, and Still Life, as well as acting in 24 City and the short film Cry Me a River (both in 2008).

With 2002's Unknown Pleasures , Jia began a foray into filming in digital video (although his first experimentation with the medium came a year before, in 2001's short documentary In Public ). Xiao Wu, Platform and Unknown Pleasures are sometimes seen collectively as an informal trilogy of China's transition into modernity. [3] :184Unknown Pleasures, a meditation on the aimless "birth control" generation to emerge from the one-child policy helped cement Jia's reputation as a major voice in contemporary Chinese cinema. [6] All this despite limited theatrical runs and obscurity in mainland China. Indeed, none of the three films was ever publicly released in the PRC, although unlicensed DVD sales were brisk, a fact commented on by Jia near the end of Unknown Pleasures when Xiao Wu, the character (Wang Hongwei again), attempts to buy the DVD of Xiao Wu, the film. [7]

Wider success

Jia Zhangke at the 2008 Venice Film Festival Jia Zhangke cropped.jpg
Jia Zhangke at the 2008 Venice Film Festival

Beginning with 2004's The World , Jia began to work with official approval from the Chinese government. [8] The shift from independent to state-approved was not in isolation, however, but was part of a broader movement by many "underground" film directors turning legitimate. [9] For many critics, the shift to legitimacy did not blunt Jia's critical eye, and The World was well received both abroad and – somewhat surprisingly – by the Chinese government. [9] Taking place in Beijing World Park, the film was also Jia's first to take place outside of his home province of Shanxi.

In 2006, Jia returned to his experimentation with digital film with his film Still Life . The film would see Jia's status both at home and abroad raised when it won the coveted Golden Lion in the 2006 Venice Film Festival. [10] The film, a diptych film about two people searching for their spouses in the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam, was accompanied by the companion documentary Dong , about artist Liu Xiaodong.

The 2000s have seen Jia at a prolific period of his career. Following the success of Still Life, Jia was reported to be working on a gangster film, The Age of Tattoo ("Ciqing shidai"). Originally planned to be released in 2007, production on The Age of Tattoo was delayed after lead Jay Chou pulled out of the project, [11] with Jia moving on to other films. These included a second documentary, Useless , about China's clothing manufacturing business, which garnered the director the Orizzonti Doc Prize at Venice in 2008, [12] [13] and 24 City , an ambitious work that conveys the historic changes that have swept across China in the last half-century through the lens of a single factory and the people connected to it by labor and blood. At the London Film Festival, 24 City was accompanied by another Jia short film, Cry Me a River , a romance starring Summer Palace actors, Hao Lei and Guo Xiaodong, and Jia regulars Zhao Tao and Wang Hongwei. [14]

I Wish I Knew is a documentary exploring the changing face of Shanghai. I Wish I Knew debuted in the Un certain regard competition in the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. [15]

During the press conference of 18 April 2013, Jia's film Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin) was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. [16] He won the award for Best Screenplay. [17] In April 2014, he was announced as a member of the main competition jury at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. [18]

His 2015 film Mountains May Depart was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. [19]

In October 2017, Jia announced the establishment of the Pingyao International Film Festival (PYIFF) in Shanxi.[ citation needed ]

Style and influences

Jia's films treat themes of alienated youth, contemporary Chinese history and globalization, as well as his signature usage of the long-take, colorful digital video and his minimalist/realist style. The World, in particular, with its portrayal of gaudy theme park filled with recreations of foreign landmarks is often noted for its critique of the globalization of China. [20] [21]

Jia's work speaks to a vision of "authentic" Chinese life, and his consistent return to the themes of alienation and disorientation fly in the face of the work of older filmmakers who present more idealized understandings of Chinese society. Critic Howard Feinstein described the director as a "rare breed of filmmaker capable of combining stunning artifice with documentary truth." [22]

Critics have noted that whereas "Fifth Generation" filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou churn out export-friendly and lushly-colored wuxia dramas, Jia, as a "Sixth Generation" filmmaker, rejects the idealization of these narratives in favor of a more nuanced style. His films, from Xiao Wu and Unknown Pleasures to Platform and The World, eschew the son et lumière that characterizes so many contemporary Chinese exports. But the films' recurrent and reflexive use of "pop" motifs ensure that they are more self-aware than the similarly documentarian Chinese films of Jia's Sixth Generation peers. [23]

Jia has commented in the past on the influence of filmmakers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Yasujirō Ozu on his work. [24] I Wish I Knew , a 2010 documentary of his, features a segment about the 1972 documentary Chung Kuo, by Michelangelo Antonioni – another filmmaker to whose work Jia's own has been compared.


As director

Feature films

YearEnglish titleChinese titleRunning timeNotes
1995 Xiaoshan Going Home 小山回家59 minutesStudent film featurette.
1997 Xiao Wu 小武108 minutes Feature film debut. Also known as Pickpocket. Screened in the "Forum" section at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival.
2000 Platform 站台154 minutesScreened in competition at the 57th Venice International Film Festival.
2002 Unknown Pleasures 任逍遥112 minutesScreened in competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
2004 The World 世界143 minutesScreened in competition at the 61st Venice International Film Festival.
2006 Still Life 三峡好人111 minutesScreened in competition at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. Winner of the Golden Lion.
2008 24 City 二十四城记112 minutesScreened in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
2013 A Touch of Sin 天注定133 minutesScreened in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
2015 Mountains May Depart 山河故人131 minutesScreened in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
2018 Ash Is Purest White 江湖儿女150 minutesScreened in competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.


YearEnglish titleChinese titleRunning timeNotes
2006 Dong 66 minutes
2007 Useless 无用80 minutes
2010 I Wish I Knew 海上传奇125 minutesScreened in the "Un Certain Regard" section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
2020 Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue 一直游到海水变蓝111 minutes

Short films

YearEnglish titleChinese titleRunning timeNotes
1994One Day in Beijing有一天,在北京Student film.
1996Du Du嘟嘟Student film.
2001 In Public 公共场所30 minutesDocumentary.
2001The Condition of Dogs狗的状况6 minutesDocumentary.
2007Our Ten Years我们的十年9 minutes
2008 Cry Me a River 河上的爱情19 minutes
2008Black BreakfastN/A3 minutesDocumentary. Segment in the anthology film Stories on Human Rights .
2009Remembrance十年12 minutesDocumentary.
2011Cao Fei4 minutesDocumentary. Segment in the anthology film Yulu.
2011Pan Shiyi3 minutesDocumentary. Segment in the anthology film Yulu.
2011untitled short3 minutesDocumentary. Segment in the anthology film 3.11 Sense of Home.
2013untitled short2 minutesDocumentary. Segment in the anthology film Venice 70: Future Reloaded.
2015Smog Journeys人在霾途7 minutes
2016The Hedonists25 minutes
2017Revive逢春18 minutesSegment in the anthology film Where Has Time Gone?.
2019The Bucket5 minutes 30 secondsChinese New Year – The Bucket – Apple.

As actor

2002Overloaded PekingDominique Musorrafiti, Matteo DamianiHimself
2002Unknown PleasuresJia ZhangkeMan singing in the street
2003My Camera Does Not LieSolveig Klassen, Katharina Schneider-RoosHimself
2006 Karmic Mahjong Wang Guangli Mobster
2014 The Continent Han Han Cameo appearance

As producer

(Excluding production credits for Jia's own directorial efforts.)
2006Walking on the Wild SideHan Jie
2008 Plastic City Yu Lik-wai
2008 Perfect Life Emily Tang
2012FidaïDamien Ounouri
2013 Forgetting to Know You Quan Ling
2015KEmyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag
2017One Night on the Wharf
2018 Dead Pigs

See also


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  2. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98011679
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Berry, Michael (2002). "Jia Zhangke: Capturing a Transforming Reality" in Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers . Columbia University Press, ISBN   0-231-13331-6. Google Book Search. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
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  5. It's worth noting that this movie is financed by Ichiyama Shozo from T-Mark company. T-Mark is established by Japanese artist Kitano Takeshi to invest in Asian arthouse films and Ichiyama Shozo is an experienced in producing Chinese-language movies. Ichiyama has worked on many movies of Hou Hsiao-Hsian and Edward Yang, as well as some other movies by Jia. Michael Berry (2009). Xiao Wu. Platform. Unknown Pleasures: Jia Zhangke's 'Hometown Trilogy'. p. 50. ISBN   9781844572625. and Darrell William Davis and Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh (2011). East Asian Screen Industries. p. 73. ISBN   9780230277670.
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