Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jia Zhangke: Chinese Underground to The World

Jia Zhankgke (listed as Zhang Ke Jia on Netflix Watch Instantly) was one of several underground filmmakers to emerge in China in the late 1990s who eventually made state sanctioned films in the 2000s.  In this case, Jia's transition to making films with government support was 2004's The World, which is a deadpan exploration of a love affair at a theme park.  Jia subsequently won the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival for his film Still Life, and many of his more recent projects have integrated documentary techniques and sensibilities into the narrative.  Be prepared to be patient as you watch these, but your patience will be rewarded once you get in synch with the rhythms of the films.

The World (Jia Zhangke, China, 2004, 139 minutes)
Netflix: Director Zhang Ke Jia's first big-budget feature revolves around the tumultuous love affair between two workers at a Chinese theme park -- Tao (Tao Zhao), a dancer who performs extravagant shows, and Taisheng (Taisheng Chen), a patrol officer who can't stay true to her. Through their story, the audience gets an inside look at the heartbreaking lives of the poor men and women who rely on this example of consumerism to eke out a living. Netflix link.

Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke, China, 2003, 107 minutes)
Netflix: In a small, impoverished Chinese city in the remote Shanxi province close to the Mongolian border, two 19-year-olds, Bin Bin and Xiao Ji, are heavily influenced by American culture and the shifting prospects of their own immediate pleasure. They drink Coke, chain-smoke cigarettes, covet U.S. dollars, talk excitedly about Hollywood movies such as Pulp Fiction and dance to Western-style music at the local club. Think a Chinese version of Slackers. Netflix link.

Platform (Jia Zhangke, China, 2000, 148 minutes)
Netflix: In this charming coming-of-age film from director Jia Zhang Ke, a group of Chinese performance artists gradually come out of their shells to embrace their own talents during the country's transition from Maoism in the 1980s. With new respect for westernization and pop culture, the group changes and evolves along with their country -- socially, politically and personally. Hong Wei Wang, Jing Dong Liang and Tian Yi Yang star. Netflix link.

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