Still Life 三峡好人(2006)

Release Date: 4 September 2006

Directed by: Jia ZhangKe 贾樟柯

Country: China

Another Jia ZhangKe film and it seems like he has a knack for making movies that reflect the problems Chinese citizens face by the government’s social and economic policy changes.

The movie starts off with SanMing, who returns to FengJie in search of his wife who had ran away 16 years ago as he wants to see his daughter. Halfway through, the movie then shifts its focus on ShenHong who has also return to FengJie in search of her husband who she had not seen for 2 years before it shifts back to SanMing again.

This film reminded me of a documentary film I had to watch to for one of modules. The documentary film by Carrie Gracie featured the urbanisation of White Horse Village in China from 2005-2015, which is now known as Wu Xi New Town. Similar to FengJie in Still Life, the villagers in White Horse Village were also forced to move out of their homes in order to make way for the demolitions and land development, with little or close to no compensation. Perhaps Jia ZhangKe had created this film to condemn the government’s ambitious plans? Coincidentally (or maybe not), both FengJie, and White Horse Village are located along the Yangtze River.

Much like my previous post about The World, Jia ZhangKe’s Still Life also depicts the effect that urbanisation has on China. The story centers around two seperate stories as if trying to show the audience how rapid urbanisation has left many citizens behind as some aren’t so quick to adapt to the drastic changes the government has planned. However, there are those who actually see the government’s plans as an opportunity to make life better for themselves, for instance, ShenHong’s husband Guo Bin.

I’ve also noticed that the film is very centred around money as though Jia ZhangKe was trying to show viewers how the Chinese government’s decision to open its market has affected their culture and society. Everything has a price: a ride on a motorcycle, a night in a hostel, a day’s worth of labour, even the freedom of Missy Ma had a price, a vast difference from the communist that China use to be.

I found the film difficult to watch as there were only Chinese subtitles available and my Chinese isn’t very fluent. On top of that, most of the villages spoke in dialect or had accents too thick too understand. The movie was also extremely slow-paced.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. A very informative and thought-provoking analysis!

    I particularly liked how you made the connection in similarities between Still Life and White Horse Village. It reminded me of the true impact of globalisation and the growing concerns (during that time). Did Zhangke really create the film to condemn the government? I wouldn’t like to believe so. I feel that as an artist, Zhangke simply gave a voice to the people, and had no political intentions behind the movie. This is evident through the film as he centers the narrative around two completely ordinary people, through the simplest of storytelling.

    Your take on money and how it influenced the narrative shows that you have an observational eye for detail. It was something that I had definitely missed out as I was watching the film. Overall, your critique has not only informed me of the essence of the film, but also reminded me of the reality of poverty and oppression. Thank you!


  2. jxprawnie says:

    I think the film is slow-paced because the director wanted to use uncompressed time to present a realistic picture of the everyday lives of rural migrants. I think that’s also why dialects were heavily used in the film. Had Standard Mandarin been used, it would have been less realistic and would feel more like a commercial film than an artistic one.

    I also noticed the part about money! I also think it is the film’s way of mocking the Chinese government’s rush to open up its market. Hopefully as time goes by, the Chinese society will be less materialistic. After all, we cannot bring material possessions with us when we die.


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