“We Will Always Be Loyal to Cinema:” Jia Zhangke Assesses the Sixth Generation
by Isabella Tianzi Cai
Wang Xiaoshuai introduces Jia Zhangke as Lou Ye looks on at the BC MOMA in Beijing (photo: Dan Edwards)
On July 25, Chinese film auteur Jia Zhangke spoke at Beijing’s BC MOMA about his feelings concerning China’s Sixth Generation filmmakers. The occasion was the Beijing premiere of Sixth Generation director Wang Xiaoshuai‘s new feature Chongqing Blues. An unsubtitled video of Jia’s address can be found on Youku.com.
An abridged version of his remarks, titled “I Don’t Believe That You Can Predict Our Ending (Wo bu xiang xin ni neng cai dao wo men jie ju)” had been published a week earlier in the Chinese newspaper The Southern Weekly. We have translated some excerpts of the article below.
Jia started by saying that he had not heard of the name “Sixth Generation” until 1992. However, he was aware of the works by directors such as Zhang Yuan, Wang Xiaoshuai, and Wu Wenguang. Eventually these directors were deemed the pioneers of China’s first independent film movement.
A 21-year old at that time, Jia was filled with intense feelings when he read a news article about Wang Xiaoshuai. In the article, Wang was said to have climbed onto a freight train bound for Baoding in Hebei Province to buy cheap black-and-white film stock. Jia was touched by Wang’s resourceful and audacious undertaking and deemed Wang one of China’s free-spirited dreamers who contributed a great deal to keeping the Chinese culture of the 1990s alive.
Jia explained the significance of the works by the Sixth Generation filmmakers as such:
“During the reform era, many people were marginalized because they lacked power and money. Which of our films told the stories of these people? Which, amongst them, induced society to acknowledge their existence – helping the weak gain recognition? The Sixth Generation filmmakers’ films did. To me, their films are the gems of the Chinese culture of the 1990s.”
Jia averred that only films that could present the true stories of China’s reform were able to offer a strong foothold for people living in today’s volatile and materialistic world. He argued that in order to produce this kind of story, filmmakers would need to withstand the pressure of a market economy. He pointed out the irony that today, “whenever a new independent film is out, the media like to mention the box office results of similar independent productions in the past. Before the film is even exhibited, they prognosticate its failure.”
Yet, financial challenges aside, Jia still believed in something else that was harder, but more rewarding, to overcome:
“Like any generation of film directions, we will get old, and we will lose our creativity gradually but surely. The force that drags us down, that instigates us to abandon our true selves, will continue to grow. The fatigue that accompanies old age both physically and mentally will invade us. Even selfishness has an increasing grasp on us. However, for me, when I see those crowded streets, I feel inspired all over again. They remind me why I wanted to make movies in the first place.”
Speaking of the future development of China’s film industry, Jia was realistic yet optimistic:
“We will continue to produce all kinds of good films, and will we continue to produce all kinds of bad films. However, I believe that as long as we are true to our selves, we will be able to keep our soul alive. As long as we stay attuned to what’s happening around us, our creative energy will keep flowing.”
Taking the French New Wave as a likely model and referent of the future as well, Jia regarded the diverging paths taken by the Sixth Generation filmmakers as a necessary offshoot. He also critiqued those who did not want to embrace any changes in the future:
“After the French New Wave, Truffaut became a great commercial director, with an outstanding box office; Godard became an auteur; but most New Wave directors fell somewhere in between. Personal failures and successes cannot speak for a generation. Conversely, the accomplishments and failures of one’s generation cannot be used to gauge him or her. This, is out of date.”
Tying the past with the future, Jia concluded by casting the Sixth Generation filmmakers as the heroes and saviors of Chinese film culture in the 90s and 00s:
“No matter what happens, we will always be loyal to cinema. If you are willing to accept culture as an integral part of film, I will say to you, for the past dozen years or so, all the best films that have tried to embrace culture are by the Sixth Generation filmmakers.”
Acknowledgements to Abel Chen and MCLC for bringing attention to Jia’s article and address.