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Unknown Pleasures: The Films of Jia Zhangke

Friday, September 12, 2008
8:45 p.m. Dong
Jia Zhangke (China, 2006)

Noted Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong gives voice to Jia’s greatest themes in the opening film in Jia’s “Trilogy of Artists,” a provocative documentary on the artistic process, the human condition, and “Asia’s state of mind,” as the director writes. A member of the Cynical Realist movement known for his monumental canvases and attention to human form, Liu (whose nickname is Dong, or “East”) travels to Fengjie to paint several miners before their city is submerged by the Three Gorges Dam project; then he moves to Bangkok to depict twelve bar girls. “Two cities far away, yet I found the human condition is surprisingly similar,” writes Jia, who filmed Still Life in Fengjie while making Dong (and even interchanged scenes between the two films). “The vitality of life bursting out of people around you is wonderful, even in a deeply tragic environment, or a condition of utter despair,” says Liu, with words that could speak for Jia’s art too. “You discover that life itself is truly moving.”

Works by Liu Xiaodong are on view in the BAM exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Jia. Photographed by Yu Likwai, Jia, Chow Chi-sang, Tian Li. (70 mins, In Mandarin and Thai with English subtitles, Color, DigiBeta PAL, From Memento Films)

Preceded by short:
Our Ten Years (Jia Zhangke, China, 2007). Two train journeys across Shanxi Province, years apart, find things different, yet entirely the same. (8 mins, In Mandarin with English subtitles, Color, DigiBeta, From XStream Pictures)

• (Total running time: 78 mins)