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Profile of Zhao Dayong, Director of <i>Ghost Town</i> and <i>Street Life</i>

Zhao Dayong, director of Street Life and Ghost Town

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

This entry is part of a weeklong spotlight of newly available titles in the dGenerate Films catalog. In the Global Times, Chris Hawke (Hao Ying) highlights director Zhao Dayong‘s filmmaking career and three of his documentaries. The article is occasioned by the screening of Zhao’s Street Life (2006) and Ghost Town (2008) at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Street Life and Ghost Town, both available through the dGenerate catalog, have received international recognition in the festival circuit, and continue to garner praise from film critics from around the world. With regard to Street Life, Hawke writes,

Zhao explores how the poorest of the poor prey on each other, and draws parallels and allusions to the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.

This point is reaffirmed by Zhao: “As you can see through the plot and the ending, Street Life does indeed work as a parable, more or less.” In terms of shooting technique, Hawke points out Zhao’s unintrusive approach. In order to capture the last scene in Street Life, Zhao said that he followed his subject for hours despite feeling the power to intervene. Because he is willing to take chances and let the stories unfold on their own, he has successfully

[captured] some shockingly intimate scenes [in Ghost Town], such as an impoverished father suggesting to his daughter and her boyfriend that they break up so the father can sell her as a wife to a rich out-of-towner.

Not many details are given about Zhao’s latest documentary, My Father’s House. But we know it is “the story of an underground Nigerian church.” Zhao expressed that he loves changes and enjoyed working with new subjects; given that he is concerned with contemporary social realities in China, it is not surprising that he has found a new inspiration in “Guangzhou’s swelling African population.”

As for Zhao’s formalistic choices, Hao thinks that

Zhao’s documentaries, like those of many other Chinese directors, are slow moving, capturing the epic nature of daily life and transporting the viewer completely into a new, foreign environment.

However, Zhao prefers not to think of the pace of his films as either fast or slow. He wants to leave audience room for interpretation and also protect his creative space. He considers the freedom and authority that he has over his work extremely valuable. Therefore, he does not believe in film schools, which he thinks of as “a crushing environment for the independent spirit.”


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