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Jia Zhangke’s <i>I Wish I Knew</i> and Useful Jia Links

Zhao Tao in I Wish I Knew (dir. Jia Zhangke)

Published as part of Dong Week at dGenerate Films, a series of articles on Jia Zhangke and the art world in China.

At RealTime Arts, Dan Edwards reviews Jia Zhangke’s new film I Wish I Knew. Some highlights:

There is a spectre haunting Jia Zhangke’s recent work: the spectre of time, of memories being displaced and history erased… But whereas Still Life and 24 City implicitly asked where a nation’s emotional, ethical and philosophical centre lies when so much of its heritage has been destroyed, Jia’s new documentary I Wish I Knew attempts to answer this question by reclaiming history from the ground up…
The contested nature of Shanghai’s past is highlighted not only through personal remembrances from various political and historical perspectives, but also through the filmmaker’s reflection on the ways in which the city’s life has been represented on screen. Shanghai has long been the centre of China’s film industry, and even when Hong Kong dominated Asian cinema, its industry was nurtured by Shanghai refugees who had fled the mainland in the wake of the Communist takeover…
I Wish I Knew resists simply positing an alternative narrative to what appears in mainland Chinese history books, or validating the version of Shanghai’s past told in Taiwan. Instead, the film redefines the very notion of history in China by refusing all singular, linear accounts of Shanghai’s development. For millennia succeeding dynasties rewrote or simply wiped clean what went before in China in order to shore up their own power, a tradition the Communists have pursued with violent determination. In contrast, Jia’s film gives voice to the vanquished as well as the victors, marking out history as an ever-evolving, always disputed discourse comprising a multitude of competing voices.

Read the full review. Dan Edwards’ personal blog devoted to Chinese cinema is Screening China.

There are many other reviews and resources related to I Wish I Knew and Jia Zhangke online. Here are just a few:

On I Wish I Knew:

Official Trailer:

Ken Kwan Ming Hao, in The China Beat:

In his new film I Wish I Knew, a documentary on Shanghai, Jia Zhangke recreates once again, after a detour of sorts with Useless and24 City, that wonderful tension between the biographical and the historical, the primal impetus of his art, that had made Platform,The World, and Still Life, his best films, so memorable. Jia is different from all other well-known mainland Chinese directors, be they of the 5th or 6th generation – his is a singular sensibility that is aware of but not chained to the social-political, which to him are meaningful only to the extent that they are constraints to be transcended and transformed. In an environment of habitual politicization and cognitive rigidity, the sensibility espoused in Jia’s films is liberating.

On Jia Zhangke:

Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2010

“Jia Zhangke: Filmmaker of the Decade?” Article by Andrew Chan for the L Magazine

Great Directors Profile on Senses of Cinema by dGenerate’s Kevin Lee, February 2003

Feature profile on, media portal owned by the Chinese government, published December 5, 2003. This may be the first mainstream media acknowledgement of Jia Zhangke in the Chinese mainstream media. Since then, all of Jia Zhangke’s films have passed official state approval

Video essay recorded by Evan Ossnos of the New Yorker

Video of Jia Zhangke at the March 2010 MoMA retrospective, interviewed by Howard Feinstein and Kevin Lee


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