Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joan Chen, Zhao Tao, Lv Liping, Chen Jianbin
Written by: Jia Zhang-ke, Zhai Yongming
Directed by: Jia Zhang-ke
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Mandarin, Shanghainese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 107
Date: 05/17/2008

24 City (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Factory Doors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In some circles, Jia Zhang-ke is considered the greatest living film director under 40, and I wouldn't disagree. His films so far -- Platform (2000), Unknown Pleasures (2002), The World (2004) and Still Life (2006) -- have dealt with various issues around the ever-shifting economy and modernization of China, but told with a unique kind of artistry, including a penchant for cheesy pop music, performance and ultra-deadpan humor. Lately he has veered into documentaries -- none of which I've seen -- and his latest film is 24 City, is a combination of documentary and fiction. (It has reportedly been the biggest hit of his career in China.) On a purely political level, it's interesting, but it also drops most of the artistry that made the fiction films so worthwhile. The bulk of 24 City is made up of interviews with former workers, who served in an aircraft plant in Chengdu City, Sichuan. Now the factory is set to be replaced by a huge complex of apartment buildings and businesses called "24 City." Several of the interviewees are actual factory workers, and some others are actors (including Jia's regular actress Zhao Tao, and Joan Chen, who playing a worker nicknamed "Little Flower" because she looks like Joan Chen). These interviews are recorded with a largely unmoving camera and few cuts or dissolves, though Jia's framing is always meticulous and fascinating. Between interviews, Jia's camera wanders almost silently through empty factories or capturing other mournful images. As far as nonfiction goes, you probably won't seen anything else this year so beautifully filmed, but it makes me sad to think that Jia has suddenly placed social significance over his own artistic drive.

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