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 52)
EducationBeijing Film Academy
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active1995–present
Zhu Jiong
(m. 1999; div. 2006)

(m. 2012)
AwardsVenice Film FestivalGolden Lion
2006 Still Life
Asian Film AwardsBest Director
2006 Still Life
Asian Film Awards – 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-language film and television director, screenwriter, producer, actor and writer. He is the dean of the Shanxi Film Academy of Shanxi Media College and the dean of the Vancouver Film Academy of Shanghai University. He graduated from the Literature Department of Beijing Film Academy. 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][2][3]

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 "the most important filmmaker working in the world today."[4]

Early life[edit]

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 Yellow Earth. The film, according to Jia, was life changing, and convinced the young man that he wanted to be a director.[5]: 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.[5]: 185 


Early work[edit]

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.[5]: 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."[5]: 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."[5]: 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."[5]: 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.[5]: 189  For Jia, the film was an important learning experience, even if he was "not terribly proud" of the end result.[5]: 189 

Underground success[edit]

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.[5]: 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.[5]: 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 is 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.[6][7] 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.[5]: 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.[8] 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.[9]

Wider success[edit]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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,[13] 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,[14][15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] He won the award for Best Screenplay.[19] In April 2014, he was announced as a member of the main competition jury at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.[20]

His 2015 film Mountains May Depart was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[21]

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

Style and influences[edit]

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.[22][23]

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."[24]

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.[25]

Jia has commented in the past on the influence of filmmakers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Yasujirō Ozu on his work.[26] 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[edit]

Feature films[edit]

Year English title Chinese title Running time Notes
1995 Xiaoshan Going Home 小山回家 59 minutes Student 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 minutes Screened in competition at the 57th Venice International Film Festival.
2002 Unknown Pleasures 任逍遥 112 minutes Screened in competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
2004 The World 世界 143 minutes Screened in competition at the 61st Venice International Film Festival.
2006 Still Life 三峡好人 111 minutes Screened in competition at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. Winner of the Golden Lion.
2008 24 City 二十四城记 112 minutes Screened in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
2013 A Touch of Sin 天注定 133 minutes Screened in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
2015 Mountains May Depart 山河故人 131 minutes Screened in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
2018 Ash Is Purest White 江湖儿女 150 minutes Screened in competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.


Year English title Chinese title Running time Notes
2006 Dong 66 minutes
2007 Useless 无用 80 minutes
2010 I Wish I Knew 海上传奇 125 minutes Screened 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[edit]

Year English title Chinese title Running time Notes
1994 One Day in Beijing 有一天,在北京 Student film.
1996 Du Du 嘟嘟 Student film.
2001 In Public 公共场所 30 minutes Documentary.
2001 The Condition of Dogs 狗的状况 6 minutes Documentary.
2007 Our Ten Years 我们的十年 9 minutes
2008 Cry Me a River 河上的爱情 19 minutes
2008 Black Breakfast 黑色早餐 3 minutes Documentary. Segment in the anthology film Stories on Human Rights.
2009 Remembrance 十年 12 minutes Documentary.
2011 Cao Fei 4 minutes Documentary. Segment in the anthology film Yulu.
2011 Pan Shiyi 3 minutes Documentary. Segment in the anthology film Yulu.
2011 untitled short 3 minutes Documentary. Segment in the anthology film 3.11 Sense of Home.
2013 untitled short 2 minutes Documentary. Segment in the anthology film Venice 70: Future Reloaded.
2015 Smog Journeys 人在霾途 7 minutes
2016 The Hedonists 营生 25 minutes
2017 Revive 逢春 18 minutes Segment in the anthology film Where Has Time Gone?.
2019 The Bucket 一个桶 5 minutes 30 seconds Promotional Chinese New Year film for Apple

As actor[edit]

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[edit]

(Excluding production credits for Jia's own directorial efforts.)
Year Title Director Notes
2003 All Tomorrow's Parties Yu Lik-wai
2006 Walking on the Wild Side Han Jie
2008 Plastic City Yu Lik-wai
2011 Mr. Tree Han Jie Executive producer
2012 Memories Look at Me Song Fang
2012 Fidaï Damien Ounouri Documentary
2013 Forgetting to Know You Quan Ling
2015 K Emyr ap Richard and Darhad Erdenibulag
2016 Life After Life Zhang Hanyi
2017 One Night on the Wharf Han Dong
2018 Dead Pigs Cathy Yan
2018 Half the Sky Daniela Thomas, Elizaveta Stishova, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Liu Yulin, Sara Blecher Anthology film
Executive producer
2019 Number One Ah Nian
2020 The Calming Song Fang
2020 Tracing Her Shadow Pengfei Executive producer
2020 The Best Is Yet to Come Wang Jing Executive producer
2020 A Song for You Dukar Tserang Executive producer
2021 Tomorrow Will Be Fine Yuan Yuan Executive producer
2021 Memoria Apichatpong Weerasethakul Co-producer
2021 White Building Kavich Neang Co-producer

See also[edit]

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


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


  1. ^ a b c d e Lee, Kevin. "Jia Zhangke". Senses of Cinema. Archived from the original on 12 September 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
  2. ^ "著名导演贾樟柯就任上海温哥华电影学院院长-上海大学". www.shu.edu.cn. Retrieved 25 December 2022.
  3. ^ "山西电影学院举行揭牌仪式贾樟柯出任院长_领导_传媒_毕赣". www.sohu.com. Retrieved 25 December 2022.
  4. ^ "Jia Zhangke: Capturing China's Transformation". NPR.org.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Said, S F (28 June 2002). "In the Realm of Censors". Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 17 October 2002. Retrieved 9 September 2008.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ See for example, Mitchell, Elvis (28 September 2002). "Unknown Pleasures: New York Film Festival Reviews; Chasing A Dream But Getting Nowhere". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2008.
  9. ^ Xu, Gary G. (2007). Sinascape: Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Rowman & Littlefield, p. 48. ISBN 0-7425-5450-3. Google Book Search. Retrieved 2008-09-10
  10. ^ Hu, Brian (17 February 2005). "Asia Pacific Arts: Presenting the World". UCLA Asia Institute. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2007.
  11. ^ a b Kraicer, Shelley (2004). "Lost in Time, Lost in SZpace: Beijing Film Culture in 2004". Cinemascope 21. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  12. ^ "'Still Life' Takes Venice's Top Prize". CBS News. Associated Press. 9 September 2006. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  13. ^ "Three Upcoming Projects of Director Jia Zhangke". CriNordic.com. 23 March 2007. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
  14. ^ "Venice Film Festival Winners". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  15. ^ "Ang Lee wins second Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival". Xinhua. 9 September 2007. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  16. ^ "24 City (Ershisi Cheng Ji)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
  17. ^ "Hat Shang Chuan Qi (I Wish I Knew)". http://www.festival-cannes.com/. Retrieved 23 May 2010. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  18. ^ "2013 Official Selection". Cannes. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  19. ^ "Cannes Film Festival: Awards 2013". Cannes. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  20. ^ "The Jury of the 67th Festival de Cannes". Cannes. Archived from the original on 7 September 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  21. ^ "2015 Official Selection". Cannes. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  22. ^ Rapfogel, Jared (December 2004). "Minimalism and Maximalism: The 42nd New York Film Festival". Senses of Cinema. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2007.
  23. ^ Kraicer, Shelly. "Lost in Time, Lost in Space: Beijing Film Culture in 2004". Cinema Scope No. 21. Archived from the original on 6 February 2007. Retrieved 26 February 2007.
  24. ^ Feinstein, Howard (2009-12-23)."Films of the decade: "Still Life"". Salon. Retrieved 2009-12-25. Archived 27 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Chang, Rebecca (September 2007). "China's Generation Gap". PopMatters. Retrieved 4 December 2007.
  26. ^ Chan, Andrew."Interview: Jia Zhangke". Filmcomment. Retrieved 2015-07-22.

External links[edit]