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24 City

Jia Zhangke last touched the screens with his meditative “Still Life,” a mesmerizing film about migrants and factory workers displaced by the damming of the Three Gorges. It was a realist masterpiece, hailed around the world as a work of art. Reviewers rarely penned a paragraph without making reference to Antonioni or Rossellini. “Jia Zhangke […]

01·11·2010

24 City

Jia Zhangke last touched the screens with his meditative “Still Life,” a mesmerizing film about migrants and factory workers displaced by the damming of the Three Gorges. It was a realist masterpiece, hailed around the world as a work of art. Reviewers rarely penned a paragraph without making reference to Antonioni or Rossellini. “Jia Zhangke […]

01·11·2010

Jia Zhangke last touched the screens with his meditative “Still Life,” a mesmerizing film about migrants and factory workers displaced by the damming of the Three Gorges.

It was a realist masterpiece, hailed around the world as a work of art. Reviewers rarely penned a paragraph without making reference to Antonioni or Rossellini. “Jia Zhangke is among the most strikingly gifted filmmakers working today,” Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times, adding, “whom you have probably never heard of.”

With his newest feature, “24 City,” his lack of celebrity is unlikely to change, which is a pity: it’s a remarkable film. Shooting in Chengdu City, Sichuan, Jia followed the life of a factory that’s being torn down. The factory is real, and so are the stories.

It started as a topsecret fighter plane production plant. Children were born into the factory’s families, and, as the kids came of age, joined the workforce themselves. Meanwhile, war faded into the past, and the manufacturing turned to products and machinery, instead. But now the factory is old, and profits are low, so they’re tearing it down and sending up luxury condominiums. So far, 20,000 workers have been displaced.

Jia searched through the neighborhood’s rubble, shooting raw factory life, the dismantling of the buildings, and the dismantling of the community. He managed to catch a spectacular number of small, perfect moments: pick-up basketball games, company songs, drunken snippets of mumbled conversation. He interviewed over a hundred people he came across, catching fading memories, touching stories of factory childhoods, anecdotes about those who have long disappeared.

Sitting in a conference room, a middle-aged man named Song Weidong reminisces about the trouble he used to get up to as a child.

The kids were jeering me. As in some movie, they said: “On behalf of the masses, I sentence you to death.”
Pángbiān xiǎohái hái qǐ hòng, hái xué diànyǐng lǐ de:”Wǒ dàibiǎo rénmín, xuānbù nǐ sǐxíng.”
旁边小孩还起哄,还学电影里的:”我代表人民,宣布你死刑。”

I was sure they were going to beat me up. I just wanted my bike, I had to get it back home, otherwise I couldn’t face my dad.
Wǒ xiǎng,kěndìng zhè dùn dǎ shì dé āi le。Wǒ jiù xiǎng zìxíngchē wǒ déi bǎ tā ná huíqù, yàobùrán wǒ méi fǎ gēn wǒ bà jiāodài。
我想,肯定这顿打是得挨了。我就想自行车我得把它拿回去,要不然我没法跟我爸交待。

To my surprise, Zhou Chao said to me: “I’ve thought it over, Premier Zhou Enlai passed away today. So I’ll let you off.”
Méi xiǎngdào,zhège Zhōucháo gēn wǒ shuō le yī jù huà:”wǒ kànzài jīntiān Zhōu zǒnglǐ qùshì de fèn shàng,wǒ ráo le nǐ.”
没想到,这个周朝跟我说了一句话:”我看在今天周总理去世的份上,我饶了你。”

Then he and his boys left.
Wánle dài rén jiù chè le。
完了带人就撤了。

I was amazed. I rode home in a hurry. When I got there, I found my parents making little white paper flowers.
Shǎ le wǒ dāngshí,gǎnjǐn qí zìxíngchē jiù huíjiā. Huíjiā yī kàn,wǒ bà wǒ mā zài nàr,ná báizhǐ,zuòxiǎo báihuā ne.
傻了我当时,赶紧骑自行车就回家。回家一看,我爸我妈在那儿,拿白纸,做小白花呢。

Premier Zhou had really passed away.
Zhōu zǒnglǐ zhēn de qùshì le.
周总理真的去世了。

 

Song Weidong is real. And this is a true story. But this realism is not reality, and not all of the people are legit. Fans of Jia’s work have learned to expect diversions—in “Still Life,” after two hours of a slow, meandering story, there’s a sudden and unexplained appearance of a UFO along the Yangtze River. In “24 City,” meanwhile, he took on a handful of actors, and threw them into the otherwise truthful mix. Jia is practicing a realism of his own, perhaps realism with Chinese characteristics.

Halfway through the film, Joan Chen (of “Twin Peaks” and “Lust, Caution”) shows up. She plays Xiao Hua, a factory worker turned beautician, who’d worked at Factory 420 since the ‘70s.

On my first day at work, I went to Canteen 2 for lunch. It was terribly crowded.
Bàodào de nà yī tiān qù dì-èr shítáng chī wǔfàn,jiù fāxiàn nàbiān de rén tèbié de duō.
报到的那一天去第二食堂吃午饭,就发现那边的人特别的多。

I later found out the men who ate in Canteens 1 and 3 had come to see the girls from Shanghai.
Hòulái cái zhīdào,yuánlái yào qù dì-yī, dì-sān shítáng de gōngrén,dōu pǎodào wǒmen zhèbiān lái kàn Shànghǎi gūniang.
后来才知道,原来要去第一、第三食堂的工人,都跑到我们这边来看上海姑娘。

Especially the younger men, they made comments about us. Things like that went on for quite some time.
Tèbié shi nàxiē niánqīng de xiǎohuǒzi,jiù duìzhe wǒmen píngtóulùnzú. Zhèyàng de chǎngmiàn ō,wéichí le hěn cháng shíjiān.
特别是那些年轻的小伙子,就对着我们评头论足。这样的场面噢,维持了很长时间。

Later some guy, I never knew who, gave me the nickname “Standard Component.”
Hòulái,bùzhīdào shì shuí gěi wǒ qǐ le ge wàihào,jiào “biāozhǔnjiàn”.
后来,不知道是谁给我起了个外号,叫”标准件”。

At first, I had no idea what it meant. LaterI came to know it meant “flower of the factory.”
Yī kāishǐ wǒ yě gǎo bù dǒng shénme yìsi. Hòulái cái zhīdào qíshí jiùshì chǎng huā de yìsi.
一开始我也搞不懂什么意思。后来才知道其实就是厂花的意思。

After that, people began calling me “Little Flower.”
Zài hòulái,yòu yǒurén kāishǐ jiào wǒ xiǎo huā.
再后来,又有人开始叫我小花。

 

Before the audience is drawn in, and forgets this is now a work of semi-fiction, Jia Zhangke cracks the wall of authenticity with a smirk. Joan Chen’s character explains that she was renamed “Little Flower” by her comrades, only because she so closely resembles the heroine of the 1979 movie that made Joan Chen a star.

Our factory showed that movie for a whole week.
Chǎng bù yīlián fàng le yī ge lǐbài.
厂部一连放了一个礼拜。

Many people saw it several times.
Hǎoxie rén dōu kàn hǎo jǐ cì.
好些人都看好几次。

They came out saying I looked like Little Flower, the heroine, played by Joan Chen.
跑出来都说我长得像小花,就是陈冲演的那个。
Pǎo chūlai dōu shuō wǒ zhǎng de xiàng xiǎo huā,jiùshì chén chōng yǎn de nèige.

At first, they used the name behind my back. Then, to my face.
Yī kāishǐ zài bèidì jiào,hòulái dāngmiàn yě jiào.
一开始在背地叫,后来当面也叫。

After a while, my real name was known to very few people.
Fǎn’ér wǒzìjǐ de zhēn míngzi méiyǒu jǐ gè rén zhīdao le.
反而我自己的真名字没有几个人知道了。

 

It’s neither documentary nor fiction. Chen’s stories are real, but the teller is fake. Sometimes, though, the tellers are real. It’s difficult to know which is which.

Ultimately, the film is a compelling and illuminating scenario of modern China, a microcosm of what is happening. It’s about the dislocation felt across the country. In a re-enacted scene, the aging Da Li waits to see a doctor at the factory clinic.

Da Li: You called me aunty? You should call me granny.
Dàlì:Nǐ jiào wǒ āyí a? nǐ yīnggāi jiào wǒ nǎinai.
大丽:你叫我阿姨啊?你应该叫我奶奶。

Nurse: Granny.
Hùshi:Nǎinai.
护士:奶奶。

Da Li: This Director Song, has he come yet?
Dàlì: Zhè Sòng zhǔrèn,jiūjìng lái le méiyǒu?
大丽:这宋主任,究竟来了没有?

Nurse: He has. He’s probably in a meeting with the bosses.
Hùshi:Lái le. Kěnéng zài dà lǐngdǎo nàbiān ba.
护士:来了。可能在大领导那边吧。

Da Li: Are you new here?
Dàlì:Nǐ shì xīnlái de ba?
大丽:你是新来的吧?

Nurse: Yes. I just graduated.
Hùshi:Shì’a,wǒ gāng cóng xuéxiào bìyè guòlai.
护士:是啊,我刚从学校毕业过来。

Da Li: Nowadays you can wear make-up to work?
Dàlì:Xiànzài shàngbānr,dōu yǔnxǔ huàzhuāng a?
大丽:现在上班儿,都允许化妆啊?

Nurse: Of course, foreign enterprises expect you to wear make-up to work.
Hùshi:Dāngrán kěyǐ,wàiqǐ bù huàzhuāng hái bù ràng shàngbānr ne.
护士:当然可以,外企不化妆还不让上班儿呢。

 

Da Li pauses.

Da Li: Isn’t this state-owned?
Dàlì:wàiqǐ,zhè bù shì guóqǐ ma?
大丽:外企,这不是国企吗?

 

The nurse looks down at her lap, and wipes the makeup off her lips. This is a story of changing worlds. This is a story of changing realities.

And, just as Joan Chen plays a character that’s named after a character that was played by Joan Chen, Jia Zhangke confuses his own art and life. To produce “24 City,” his fictional documentary about a luxury condo, he accepted investment from the developers of 24 City, the real Chengdu City luxury condo. While he’s not promoting himself with the skill of Zhang Yimou just yet, this seems like a good start. We may need to start watching this auteur carefully. Perhaps inspired by his predecessor Zhang’s shocking transition from slow art to operatic kung fu, Jia’s next film is also, in a bold and surprising move, full of kung fu.

  • story
  • gùshi 故事
  • character
  • rénwù 人物
  • real-life
  • zhēnshí 真实
  • factory
  • gōngchǎng 工厂
  • What do you think of that character?
  • Nǐ juéde zhè ge rénwù zěnme yàng? 你觉得这个人物怎么样?
  • It’s a real-life story.
  • Zhè shì gè zhēnshí de gùshi。 这是个真实的故事。