|STILL LIFE (SANXIA
HAOREN) (director/writer: Jia
Zhang-Ke; screenwriters: Na Guan/Jiamin Sun;
cinematographer: Yu Likwai; editor: Khung
Jinlei; music: Lim Giong; cast: Han
Sanming (Himself), Zhao Tao (Shen Hong), Li Zhu Bing
(Guo Bing), Wang Hongwei (Wang Dong Ming), Ma Lizhen
(Missy Ma), Lan Zhou (Huang Mao); Runtime: 108;
MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Xu Pengle/Wang
Tianyun/Jia Zhang-Ke; New
Yorker Films; 2006-Hong Kong/China-in Mandarin
with English subtitles)
"A lyrical pic that brilliantly blends together documentary and fantasy to paint an evocative picture of modern China that is free from the usual Red Chinese propaganda."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
eminent Sixth-Generation Chinese auteur, Jia Zhang-Ke
("The World"/'Unknown Pleasures"/"Platform"), one of
the world's best, directs a lyrical pic that
brilliantly blends together documentary and fantasy to
paint an evocative picture of modern China that is
free from the usual Red Chinese propaganda and
independent enough from the government to show there's
an outbreak of alienation in China. These subversive
political comments has his films banned in China and
shown only in Europe and the States.
One of Jia Zhang-Ke's main protagonists, a coal miner named Han Sanming (the director's cousin) from the Shanxi Province country town of Fenyang, arrives in the sinking flooded 2,000-year-old town of Fengjie to search for his bought child bride (Ma Lizhen) who abandoned him 16 years ago with his daughter he has never seen. After some difficulty locating her, since her street sunk in the Yangtze River because of the Three Gorges Dam project (the largest hydraulic project in the world, that has caused the displacement of over two million people), Han locates her brother working on a demolition crew and learns his wife is working on a houseboat down river and will return in a few months. While waiting to see his estranged wife, Han gets a job on the demolition crew tearing down all the crumbling buildings. Also arriving in Fengjie from her hometown in Shanxi is the young sophisticated and attractive nurse Shen Hong (Zhao Tao), whose construction engineer hubby, Guo Bing (Li Zhu Bing), left her two years ago to take on this construction job and has managed to elude her during that time. The busy Bin is a hard man to track down, but Shen is aided by an archeologist (Wang Hongwei) who is his friend. Though these two stories never quite connect, they give Jia Zhang-Ke a chance to show how these ongoing modernization projects affects the people, leaves the marginalized uprooted and is changing the country's landscape in a way that is not always for the better.
these two personal hardship stories of broken
marriage, gives the astute director a chance to
observe the scene taking place in China's industrial
heartland and how globalization and urban renewal has
come to China so that cell phones, White Rabbit toffee
candy (brand named products) and bottled water are
just as part of the Chinese scene as they are in Los
pic shows the universal problems of progress causes
displacement and leaves those not in a position to
adjust marginalized from society, and that the new
laissez-faire form of capitalism is just as harsh as
was the Communist system. What the observant film
can't do is get us emotionally involved in the
subjects, who appear to be victims of the system but
victims who are survivors ready to pay their dues to
move on with their lives that have been temporarily
jarred. Though filmed with a light touch, the pic
still feels at times ponderous.
Still Life won the Gold Lion at Venice in 2006.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2012 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ