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Jia Zhangke

Jia Zhangke
Chinese name 賈樟柯 (traditional)
Chinese name 贾樟柯 (simplified)
Pinyin Jiǎ Zhāngkē (Mandarin)
Born 1970 (age 45–46)
Fenyang, Shanxi, China
Occupation Film director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active 1995–present
Spouse(s) Zhu Jiong (m. 1999; div. 2006)
Zhao Tao (m. 2012)

Jia Zhangke (born 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 was raised 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 described him as perhaps "the most important filmmaker working in the world today."[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Early work 2.1
    • Underground success 2.2
    • Wider success 2.3
  • Style and influences 3
  • Filmography 4
    • As director 4.1
    • As actor 4.2
    • As producer 4.3
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Works 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Jia 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]:188 Xiao 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] 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 Zhangke'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]:184 Unknown 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.[5] 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 pirated 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.[6]

Wider success

Jia Zhangke at 2008 Venice Film Festival

Beginning with 2004's The World, Jia began to work with official approval from the Chinese government.[7] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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 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,[10] 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,[11][12] 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.[13]

As of 2009, Jia is working on another documentary, this time about the history of Shanghai.[14] Jia is also beginning work on his first big budget production, a historical film titled In the Qing Dynasty, which will be produced by the Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To.[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, his most recent 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]

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 Yasujiro 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

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1994 One Day in Beijing 有一天,在北京 Student short film
1995 Xiao Shan Going Home 小山回家 Student short film
1996 Du Du 嘟嘟 Student short film
1997 Xiao Wu 小武 Feature film debut; alternatively known as The Pickpocket; screened in the "Forum" section at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival
2000 Platform 站台 Feature film; in competition at the 57th Venice International Film Festival
2001 In Public 公共场所 Short film
2001 The Condition of Dogs 狗的状况 Short film
2002 Unknown Pleasures 任逍遙 Feature film; in competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival
2004 The World 世界 Feature film; in competition at the 61st Venice International Film Festival
2006 Still Life 三峡好人 Feature film; in competition at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. Winner of the Golden Lion.
2006 Dong Documentary
2007 Useless 无用 Documentary
2007 Our Ten Years 我们的十年 Short film
2008 24 City 二十四城记 Feature film; in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival
2008 Cry Me a River 河上的爱情 Short film
2008 Black Breakfast N/A Segment in the anthology film, Stories On Human Rights
2010 I Wish I Knew 海上传奇 Documentary; screened in Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival
2013 A Touch of Sin 天註定 Feature film; in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival
2015 Smog Journeys 人在霾途 Short film
2015 Mountains May Depart 山河故人 Feature film; in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

As actor

Year Title Director Role
2002 Overloaded Peking Dominique Musorrafiti, Matteo Damiani Himself
2002 Unknown Pleasures Jia Zhangke Man singing in the street
2003 My Camera Does Not Lie Solveig Klassen, Katharina Schneider-Roos Himself
2006 Karmic Mahjong Wang Guangli Mobster
2014 The Continent Han Han Cameo appearance

As producer

(Excluding production credits for Jia's own directorial efforts.)
Year Title Director
2006 Walking on the Wild Side Han Jie
2008 Plastic City Yu Lik-wai
2008 Perfect Life Emily Tang
2012 Fidaï Damien Ounouri
2013 Forgetting to Know You Quan Ling
2015 K Emyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag

See also

  • Xstream Pictures – Jia Zhangke's production company, founded with Yu Lik-wai and Chow Keung


  1. ^ a b c d e Lee, Kevin. "Jia Zhangke".  
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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.
  4. ^ Said, S F (2002-06-28). "In the Realm of Censors". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  5. ^ See for example, Mitchell, Elvis (2002-09-28). "Unknown Pleasures: New York Film Festival Reviews; Chasing A Dream But Getting Nowhere".  
  6. ^ Xu, Gary G. (2007). Sinascape: Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Rowman & Littlefield, p. 48. ISBN 0-7425-5450-3. Google Book Search. Retrieved 2008-09-10
  7. ^ Hu, Brian (2005-02-17). "Asia Pacific Arts: Presenting the World". UCLA Asia Institute. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  8. ^ a b Kraicer, Shelley (2004). "Lost in Time, Lost in SZpace: Beijing Film Culture in 2004". Cinemascope 21. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  9. ^  
  10. ^ "Three Upcoming Projects of Director Jia Zhangke". 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  11. ^ "Venice Film Festival Winners". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  12. ^ "Ang Lee wins second Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival". Xinhua. 2007-09-09. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  13. ^ "24 City (Ershisi Cheng Ji)".  
  14. ^ a b Lee, Min (2009-07-25). "Chinese director Jia to make 1st big budget film".  
  15. ^ "Hat Shang Chuan Qi (I Wish I Knew)". Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  16. ^ "2013 Official Selection". Cannes. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "Cannes Film Festival: Awards 2013". Cannes. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "The Jury of the 67th Festival de Cannes". Cannes. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "2015 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  20. ^ Rapfogel, Jared (December 2004). "Minimalism and Maximalism: The 42nd New York Film Festival". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  21. ^ Kraicer, Shelly. "Lost in Time, Lost in Space: Beijing Film Culture in 2004". Cinema Scope No. 21. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  22. ^ Feinstein, Howard (2009-12-23)."Films of the decade: "Still Life"". Salon. Retrieved 2009-12-25.
  23. ^ Chang, Rebecca (September 2007). "China's Generation Gap". PopMatters. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  24. ^ Chan, Andrew."Interview: Jia Zhangke". Filmcomment. Retrieved 2015-07-22.


  • Jia Zhangke Speaks Out: The Chinese Film Director's Texts on Film. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2014.

External links

  • Jia Zhangke at the Internet Movie Database
  • Jia Zhangke at AllMovie
  • Jia Zhangke at the Senses of Cinema directory of great directors
  • Overloaded Peking – documentary starring Jia Zhangke
  • BigScreen Festival with Jia Zhangke
  • Postsocialist Grit An essay on ideology and aesthetics in Platform and Unknown Pleasures at Offscreen Journal
  • A conversation with Jia Zhangke
  • Jia Zhangke on The Realist Imperatvie at Asia Society
  • Q&A with Jia Zhangke at VIFF 2010 at the Intermedias Review
  • The Quest for Memory: Documentary and Fiction in Jia Zhangke's Films, Jiwei Xiao, Senses of Cinema 59
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