Jia Zhangke retrospective

It has been said the last hundred years was “the American Century,” but now we all live in “the Chinese Century”. In just a few decades, Communist, agrarian China has been transformed by the forces of globalization. No one has borne more acute witness to this convulsive period than Jia Zhangke (b. 1970), whose work mines the complexities and contradictions of our times with vision and grace. 

This retrospective pulls together all Jia’s dramatic fiction films from his underground debut, Pickpocket, in 1997, to his latest, Cannes prize-winning Ash Is Purest White (2018), including his first five, rarely screened masterworks, on 35mm prints. These films are playing from now until March 31st at VIFF Vancity Theatre.

Still Life (2006)


March 21 – 26

Jia’s second feature, Platform, released in the year 2000, is his first masterpiece, a movie which deserves the epithet “epochal”. It’s also a film of focused simplicity and naturalism, about the travails of four friends in a dance troupe through the 1980s and 90s, their transition from government propagandists to breakdancing revue mirroring the effects of the “open door policy” that transformed the country. “One of the first masterpieces of the 21st century.” Globe & Mail 35mm print

Platform (2000)


March 22 – 27

In Jia’s debut feature, an underground film shot right after he graduated from film school, Xiao Wu is a pickpocket, a petty criminal, preying on visitors to Fenyang, the dirt-town he calls home (also Jia’s hometown). His best friend is suddenly a “model entrepreneur” who doesn’t want to know him anymore; a visit to his family reawakens old feuds; the leggy Mei-Mei, a hostess in the karaoke bar, seems to be stringing him along; and the cops are launching a crackdown on street-crime… 35mm print

Pickpocket (1997)

Ash Is Purest White

March 22 – 28

Arguably the greatest working filmmaker, Jia Zhangke’s latest feels like a culmination, spanning the years 2001-2017 and drawing as it does on characters, plot elements, motifs and themes from almost of his previous features. The magnificent Zhao Tao plays Qiao, the girlfriend of gangster Bin. She saves his life but winds up in prison for her actions. Freed in 2006, she goes looking for her lost love… “Fierce, gripping, emotionally generous and surprisingly funny.” LA Times

Ash Is Purest White (2018)

Unknown Pleasures

March 23 – 25

Youthful disaffection, China-style. Jobless 19-year-olds in Datong, fairly typical of China’s current ‘no future’ generation, Xiao Ji makes a shy play for the dancer Qiao Qiao (Zhao Tao), undaunted by the fact that she’s a gangster’s mistress; Binbin (Zhao Weiwei) sings karaoke with a girl who’s about to leave to study in Beijing. Eventually they get around to thinking about robbing a bank. “As true a picture of contemporary existence as we could hope for now.” Kent Jones, Film Comment 35mm print

Unknown Pleasures (2002)

The World

March 23 – 27

Jia hit upon a magnificent metaphor for this, his first official studio production: The World is set in a theme park featuring scale models of such wonders as the Eiffel Tower, The Taj Mahal, the pyramids, and even the World Trade Center (“we still have ours…”). Such ersatz glories are counterpointed with the mundane domestic lives of the park’s employees, whose daily lives offer little in the way of grandeur or escape. “Stark and rapturous.” Salon 35mm print

The World (2004)

Still Life

March 25 – 27

Progress comes in many forms, but in 2000-year-old Fengjie, it involves dismantling an entire town in order to make way for a hydro-electric dam at the famed Three Gorges. This Venice Film Festival winner tells twinned stories of people looking for missing partners in this transitional space… Along with Unknown Pleasures, Still Life is central to Jia’s latest film, Ash is the Purest White. “Simply one of the best films of last year, this year, or any year likely to come.” LA Weekly 35mm print

Still Life (2006)

Mountains May Depart

March 27 – 31

Another film of immense ambition and scope from leading Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin; The World). Set over three decades, from the turn of the millennium to 2025, the film charts the ranging fortunes of two men and the woman they both love (Jia’s muse, Tao Zhao). This is a film about China’s embrace of capitalism, but told with an unforced poetic simplicity and rueful conviction. “A work of soaring ambition and deeply felt humanism.” Variety

Mountains May Depart (2015)

A Touch of Sin

March 28, 6:45 PM

Master director Jia Zhangke’s most popular film yet, this Cannes prize-winning drama shows China’s gangsters, massage parlours, vicious bosses and desperate workers drawn into a whirlwind of violence, passion and vengeance. This brilliantly achieved film is a vital state-of-China bulletin, torn straight from today’s bloody headlines. “A bold, invigorating statement from a director who keeps reinventing himself.” Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

A Touch of Sin (2013)

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