Chinese Director Jia Zhangke Reflects His Country’s Fast-Changing Urban Landscape
Recently, we profiled Chinese director Huang Jianxin, a member of the country’s influential “Fifth Generation” of filmmakers — the first group to emerge following China’s opening and reform movement in the late 1970s and ’80s — as he was appointed President of the International Jury for the third annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Although China’s Fifth Generation of filmmakers like Huang, Chen Kaige, and perhaps the best-known, Zhang Yimou still reign supreme in the world of Chinese film, a younger group is now starting to draw serious attention. The so-called “Sixth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers, most of whom were born in the 1970s and began their careers in the mid- to late 1990s, are starting to create films that illustrate the new challenges faced in a more globalized, modernized China, where alienation, intense competition, and gritty urbanism weigh heavily on the collective consciousness of China’s twentysomethings.
Last year, “24 CITY” by Sixth Generation filmmaker Jia Zhangke (Unknown Pleasures, Platform), was released in China, and recently the film has made its way over the Pacific for some film festivals in America. Today, We Are Movie Geeks reviews “24 CITY,” noting that the film’s skillful blending of documentary and dramatic styles is an innovative move in a new direction for Jia and Chinese film in general:
The state-owned aviation engine plant known as “Factory 420″ was built in 1958 in the southwest city of Chengdu and is shutting down to make way for a complex of luxury apartments called “24 City.” In the movie 24 CITY director Jia Zhangke combines shots of the factory and the surrounding city with talking-head monologues and interviews with workers who are losing their jobs. At first the film seems like a conventional documentary making a statement about the human cost of progress. The workers interviewed, old laborers as well as younger executives, have a real variety in terms of backgrounds and attitudes and their stories are sobering, moving and sometimes humorous.
One of the major themes of new Chinese film is the impact of modernization on China’s environment and the lives of the country’s lao bai xing (common people). Although many films center on the country’s upwardly mobile young generation, several Sixth Generation filmmakers — and new, unaffiliated young filmmakers in cultural centers like Beijing — look at the way China’s recent growth has dramatically changed societal dynamics:
At some point, the viewer of 24 CITY begins to realize that some, but not all, of those interviewed are actually actors. Actors are used for some of long monologue sequences because director Zhangke interviewed over 130 people and claims he had to create composites and he makes no attempt to indicate what is documentary and what is acting. This hybrid approach is curious at first but perhaps this is Jia‘s comment on all of the agenda-driven documentaries being made today. The same developers who leveled Factory 420 financed this film, further implying that objectivity is a thing of the past and the blurring of lines is the new norm. 24 CITY is a provocative, timely, and touching portrait of people in transition but with it’s length (almost 2 hours) and generous silences, I wouldn’t expect it to appeal to popular audiences. I recommend 24 CITY.