Saturday, April 5, 2008


Still Life (三峡好人)

Still Life (三峡好人) In order to deal with the repeated flooding problems as happening in China right now, Chinese relocate 1.13 million people (almost twice the population in San Francisco) to build the 2309 meter (1.435 miles) long "Three Gorges Dam" (长江三峡大坝).

One demolished county to give its way to the Three Gorges Dam is called Fengjie (奉节), which is completely under water by now. It's also the location where director Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯) ("World" (世界) and "Unknown Pleasures" (任逍遥)) shot his new film "Still Life" (三峡好人, China 2006, 108 min.)

The film tells stories of two totally unrelated individuals who come to Fengjie to look for people. One is coal miner Han Sanming: searching for her daughter that his ex-wife took with her 16 years ago. The other one is nurse Shen Hong: searching for her husband who has not come home for two years. And there is absolutely no connection between these two stories, except they all happen at the Three Gorges Dam. Also in the film, at the same location, something took off and went into the space -- I am still wondering what that was.

As Jia's other films, plots are not as important as the surroundings the director wants to present. Some hate his films, while some others are his cult followers. But even you don't like his films, you probably won't forget images that reflect lives in the world his characters live in. For example, four workers crawl into one bed one by one, shirtless, holding a bowl of noodles.

But his unconventional cinema language can also create some communication problems even with the subtitles. In this film, Jia pops on screen with words "cigarette," "liquor," "tea," and "sugar" to divide his film into four segments. Why? And why didn't he use "rice" or "soy sauce?" Well, perhaps only Jia knows.

Some feel it's unjust for this film to win the top Golden Lion award last year at the Venice Film Festival.

Actually, I wouldn't vote for it either if I were casting a vote. But, what do I know? I have not even seen Three Gorges (三峡), nor stayed at a place for 1.5 Yuan (about $0.2) per night. It's a story about different lives, so called "Still Live."

Tao Zhao in STILL LIFE playing at SFiFF51

"Still Life" will be shown at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival (SFiFF).

This review was originally written on July 19, 2007. Reposting for the SFiFF51.


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