Commissioned by Arrow Films for their dual format boxed set, Jia Zhangke: Three Films, released in the U.K. in early 2018, and reprinted in my collection Cinematic Encounters: Portraits and Polemics (2019). — J.R.
It’s important to acknowledge that part of what makes Jia Zhangke the most exciting and important mainland Chinese filmmaker currently active also makes him one of the most disconcerting and sometimes even bewildering. This has a lot to do with his propensity for viewing fiction and non-fiction, and, even more radically, fantasy and reality, as reverse sides of the same coin, and, in keeping with this complex duality, a talent for bold stylistic shifts not only between successive films but between and within separate sequences. His ambitions are such that even his ‘failures’ are worth more than the successes of many of his colleagues — and, for that matter, what we might describe as a Jia ‘failure’ often means simply a film that we should see again and reconsider.
Confounding us still further in A Touch of Sin (2013), his seventh feature, Jia reverses his previous position of avoiding on-screen violence by delivering it this time by the bucketful. In his earlier features, treatments of violence tended to be reticent or elliptical, so that government executions in Platform (2000) registered as distant gunshots and the tragic and fatal industrial accident of a construction worker in The World wasn’t shown at all.… Read more »