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Jia Zhang-ke looks at factory life in China
Chris Knipp25 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Jia's latest feature doesn't reach out and grab you; rather it builds up a steady accumulation of detail in an artful and partly fictionalized documentary whose central concern is the transition from a planned economy to a market economy in China, with the Cultural Revolution along the way. Jia decided to use actors to play "real" "documentary" talking heads--people who worked at a certain factory now dismantled to become a five-star hotel--or their children, one of them, Su Na (Zhao Tao) working as a "shopper," making good money traveling to other countries and buying expensive goods for rich clients who want to spend but are too lazy to do so. This woman, who wept when she visited her mother in the factory for the first time and saw her numbing job, is the opposite extreme from the aging, now dim-witted "master" of the factory in its early days who worked seven days a week, and used the same tool till it wore down to nothing so as not to waste. The shift in China from the self-effacing collectivist mentality to the current entrepreneurial capitalism is so great that you can imagine why Jia takes refuge in still tableaux of people, composites, and a gallery of talking heads. But this is not as stimulating a film as earlier works like Platform, Unknown Pleasures, The World, or Still Life and will appeal only to the patient.

Actors are used for some of the people because Jia interviewed 130 people and had to create composites. Jia sees no problem in making use of fiction this way in telling fact: life as he sees it is a mixture of historical fact and imagination. He uses poems by classical poets including the Dream of the Red Chamber and William Butler Yeats as well as songs, including "The Internationale" sung by a group of oldsters, pop music, a Japanese classical composer, and contemporary music by a Taiwanese composer. Sometimes the camera is still as a person speaks. Sometimes one person or a group look silently into the camera for a minute or so.

The film, understandably, tells a tale of repression. It also witnesses people who were laid off in the 90's and suffered the lowering of an already frugal lifestyle.

There are strange stories. One woman describes being on a company trip when she and her husband lost their little boy. It was wartime and they felt obligated to go back on the boat to return to work, and they never saw their child again. An attractive woman known as "Little Flower" was the prettiest girl at the factory and when the photo of an unidentified handsome and athletic young man appeared on a bulletin board everyone told her he should become her husband. Silly as this was she began to dream of it--but then they were called together and told he was a pilot whose plane had crashed so he had died due to the malfunction of parts they had made at the factory. They were meant to feel guilty. A woman for years helped her sister in the country by sending clothes and other things to be recycled for her children. More recently she was laid off and became so strapped she had to rely on her "poor" country sister to help her out.

The focus is on the 420 Factory, which was founded in Chengdu, the capital of Sechuan, in the late 50's to produce airplane engines. In early days its function was secret and workers, shipped there from all over the country, lived in virtual isolation; kids got into fights if they tangled with the locals, one man recounts. Later 420 was retooled to produce peacetime products such as washing machines.

Known actors such as Joan Chen or Jia regulars such as Zhao Tao and Chen Jianbin work together with unknown crew members to simulate the "interviews." Though Jia's logic in using this method to present composites makes sense, the effect is to undercut the sense of realism. Probably the best thing about the film is the beautifully composed shots of the factory in operation and being dismantled, taken by cinematographers Yu Lik-wai and Wang Yu. While Jia's Still Life was haunting and quietly powerful, Useless seemed inexplicable and lazy. This is somewhere in between the two. Emotionally it has some import, but the mixed genre doesn't entirely work, and the sense of a Brave New World conveyed in Jia's diffuse but interesting The World seems to have given way to adverts for capitalism. Is this so that Jia can work and travel freely and get his films shown at home? The leading Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker may be slowly morphing into somebody else.
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24 City
jasoneckelman12 May 2009
This review is primarily in response to Barry Freed's, whose take on the film is so wildly different from mine it makes me wonder if we saw the same movie.

I LOVED this movie. I think the quasi-documentary style is wholly winning and adds a lot to the story. As far as defending Jia's decision not to do a "traditional" documentary, I guess I just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he had wanted to do a "traditional" documentary, then he would have done so. I feel that Jia is an accomplished enough artist that I can assume he has an instinctive sense of what will best serve a particular story. Clearly, in this instance, he decided on a fact/fiction "blend", and to my mind, he made the right call.

While watching this, I couldn't help but think of Werner Herzog and his theory of "ecstatic truth" ("I know that by making a clear distinction between "fact" and "truth" in my films, I'm able to penetrate into a deeper stratum of truth that most films never attain. This deep inner truth inherent in cinema can be discovered only by not being bureaucratically, politically, and mathematically correct." - W. Herzog). While I'm not (necessarily) making a comparison between Zhang-ke and Herzog, I feel that they are very much after the same thing. Whether an essential truth can be best conveyed using actors or non-actors, using a documentary or drama approach, etc. are questions that both directors obviously struggle with, and I feel that they have come to similar conclusions. They (to my mind) have opted to fuse the two approaches, in an attempt to remove intellectual and emotional barriers between the people on-screen and the people in the audience. And more often than not, that approach works, and works in a very powerful way.

Finally, I thought the performances, without exception, were utterly devastating and mind-blowing. I don't know what Jia does to his actors to get performances of that caliber, but whatever it is, he needs to keep it up. I think this is an excellent companion-piece to "Still Life", and a beautiful addition to his body of work. Masterful.
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Does a structure of concrete and steel have life?
harry_tk_yung13 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Does a structure of concrete and steel have life? You bet, if interwoven with the stories of people from three generations and a variety of backgrounds and aspirations. This is exactly what Director JIA Zhangke accomplished with this project. The transformation of "Factory 420" (an aviation engine factory built in 1958) into a modern-day upscale apartment complex "24 City" is documented in 8 or 9 interviews (depending on which film festival program you are read – Cannes 08, TIFF 08 or HKIFF 09). Through these stories that are sobering, often touching and sometimes humorous, the concrete and steel structure "Factory 420" acquires a life of its own, from birth to demise and rebirth as "24 City". This structure in turn serves as a motif for witnessing the vicissitudes and development of the city Chengdu.

Despite the fact that there is no dramatisation of these stories, which are told, literally, by the interview objects right in front of a stationary camera all the time, they are mesmerising. The interviewees are as varied as can be: an old factory worker, and even older party (Communist) official, a factory executive in the next generation, an idealistic young man, three women – two from each of the first and second generation workers and the youngest born in 1982, daughter of the factory worker but on her way of becoming a yuppie herself. There are some others, shorter segments which perhaps gives rise to the varying views of how many interviews there are.

The poignancy in the older generation is moving, particularly in the cases where it is the real worker. The factory executive's account of his adolescent adventures, including a "puppy love" courtship, provides some comic relief. While the men interviewed are the real people themselves, the three women are professional actors. Joan Chen plays a middle age spinster who has missed her chance when she was the "factory flower". Her portrayal of this woman who at the same time values her freedom and laments her loneliness is superb. At one point, she even plays the "Julia Robert's joke" in "Ocean's twelve" – this worker tells how she is nicknamed "Little flower" because she looked like the actress Joan Chen in a movie playing a character with that name. Director Jia's favourite actor ZHAO Tao (who has appeared in just about every film he has made) plays a 27-year-old woman coming to sudden realization of her love for her mother, an emotion that has hitherto been buried deep down.

The film closes with Director Jia's signature super-slow penning camera, a panoramic view of Chengdu from the vintage point of an observation tower.
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Living For The City
loganx-29 May 2010
Zhang Ke Jai has(at least to me) grown substantially since "The World", able to leave some of the melodrama behind and let his characters and the landscapes speak for themselves. "24 City" is a beautiful film, both relevant and moving in the ways "Up In The Air" wishes it were.

A factory in Chengdu, China that has been in operation for generations is being closed down to make room for a upscale high rise apartment building called "24 City" ironically named after a poem about harmony. We follow a series of interviews with former factory workers about their lives in and around the factory.Some of the interviews could have been shortened or illustrated visually instead of having us just watching talking heads speaking over silence, but that is my personal preference.

It could be argued, by not re-creating their lives Jai gives his subjects a sense of dignity, and creates an intimacy between them and the viewer that would be otherwise lost. For the most part I would agree, though in honesty, I did get anxious more than a few times during some of these discussions. Jai's subjects at first seemed to be almost rambling inconsequentially, but as the film goes on, their statements become enmeshed in each other and the film as a whole, and intricately articulate how the factory for generations was their entire world, romantically, socially, philosophically, and culturally.

Some of the workers had their first fights there, their first loves, some moved their whole families on the promise of work, while others left their families behind, and suddenly this community which has sustained them all this time has disappeared, moved by forces beyond their control. Part of the film is documentary, but some of the interviews are "fictional" and feature actors.

I had trouble telling the difference between those who were actors and who were actual workers, but the mixture between the authentic and the dramatic only serves to highlight the contrast between the promise of worker's solidarity and justice and the realities of changing economic priorities. Jai's "The World" offered us the best metaphor for the globalized melancholic that I've yet to see, that of an amusement park masquerading as the greatest architectural achievements of humanity, while those who toil in it are increasingly alienated from any sense of "authentic" culture, themselves, and each other. That film itself, however was not as compelling as it's ideas.

In many ways "24 City" and so I am told Jai's similar, "Still Life" continue this series on the changing face of China, and the "real" people caught up in this global gentrification. What made me look at "24 City" as something other than just a clever polemic was a baffling scene of a girl skating to a soft, bubbly, trance like electronic song. The girl skates in circles, and the music plays and we just observe her, and the song continues, as the camera floats off looking across the city and the mammoth building rising up into the skyline. I don't know what if any purpose this scene had to the rest of the film, but it was lovely. Equally startling were the huge crowds of workers, by the hundreds in the film's first scenes, that are as overwhelming as the CG throngs of countless soldiers and orcs from "The Lord Of The Rings" epic battle-scapes. In those moments Zhang makes his cinematic eye, rival and better his(at least for me)binding interest in social realism.

Realism especially of the socially progressive variety is not my cup of tea (to put a borderline pathological aversion mildly), but "24 City" made, if not a believer, than a fascinated viewer out of me. If globalization has to be "hot button" of contemporary art, if there must be sad-sack post-modernist which stylistically bite the hands that feed them, if the classical Marxist themes of alienation, class, and gentrification must persist on into the next decade, we could all do worse than to see them filtered through Zhang's warm humanism (another term I would usually avoid).

It's not a thrill a minute, and there is no George Clooney smirking to enjoy, but "24 City" is rewarding, intimate, and oddly sensual, which few politicized movies, and even fewer documentaries, seem capable of doing these days. This is the first Jai I enjoyed, and makes me interested to visit the rest of the oeuvre.
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Sort of docu-drama
GyatsoLa1 January 2012
I was looking forward to this film as I know Chengdu quite well and the topic of the rapid changes in China society interests me a great deal. I was less than impressed with the only other film by Zhang Ke Xia I'd seen (The World), which seemed to me to be a clunking metaphor in search of a script, but I thought it still sounded promising. How wrong I was - I find myself mystified by the praise this film has been given.

It starts out so well, with some beautiful and moving interviews with retired workers from the factory, now moving out from Chengdu to an industrial estate to the suburbs (but we suspect of course that this is a fiction, the factory really is no more and the workers are disposable). The insight into what these workers thought of their jobs (they were highly prized) and the genuine pride they felt in their factory is moving and fascinating. But for whatever reason, the film then moves to using painfully obvious actors to read scripted lines. The actors are quite awful, using the pauses for effect and blank stares into the middle distance of amateur dramatic society volunteers. And they quite obviously people who've never been in a foundry in their lives (neither i suspect had the film makers, as the working foundry scenes were patently set up). I can't help see this as an obvious insult to the real workers, who presumably were not considered good looking or articulate enough to be in the film. The scripted stories they tell are so obvious and fake in comparison to the more sober recollections than the real people, its hard not to feel they were written for effect, not to create a real remembrance or to provide some sort of deeper truth (which is usually the excuse of film makers trying to justify short cuts and showy technique). I can only wonder what those people who were interviewed and poured their hearts out would think to see tiny scraps of their personal stories told by some patently bored flown in actors.

The rest of the film is pretty much standard documentary work, with little real feel or imagination in its telling. The photography fails miserably to convey the genuine grandeur of those old industrial buildings and makes no attempt to tell us what the new 24city will look like, apart from a brief moment showing us the model for the new complex. No attempt whatever is made to tell us a bit more about the mechanics of what is actually happening or how the former workers will be treated. The juxtaposition of hardy old industrial workers and the somewhat vapid younger generation is rather obvious and clichéd, it doesn't actually tell the viewer anything new or interesting.

I can't help thinking that this film would never have gotten its release if it had been made by a less exalted film maker. I strongly suspect that for whatever reason (pressure by the government?), the original film was altered significantly, forcing the use of actors and its lack of any concrete reference to the present or future for these people. If this is the case, then it should have been scrapped, not presented as the farrago it is.
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Another Gem from Director Jia
ronchow15 March 2010
I finally watched this film from beginning to end, after seeing pieces of it from various TV channels.

First of all, I want to remind viewers that the loss of employment due to the closure of a factory or business, and the resulting hardship for the affected, is a global problem and not unique to China. Economic vicissitudes are simply a fact life, and no country can be an exception to this rule. So any suggestion that Director Jia intended to hide the magnitude of the impact to the laid off employees of the closed down factory is a mute point.

As with his other works, this film requires the utmost in patience. Long takes of interviewees, played by the actual characters themselves or substituted by professional actors, convey the fineness in human emotion of the affected characters.

The film is about lives of very ordinary Chinese people in an evolving economy. Some young, some middle-aged, and some old. It explores human emotion - mostly the good side of it. It was about love neglected over time, or over mundane day-to-day obligations. The beautiful factory worker role played by Joan Chen is an interesting one - she was the prettiest of the bunch and yet a failure in finding love. Great acting from Ms. Chen for this short role.

In short, I enjoyed the film as I did with 'Still Life'. So when you are in the mood for some serious cinema or have the interest for a glimpse into life in contemporary China, get this DVD and let Jia Zhang Ke tell you the stories of these ex-factory workers. Your patience will be rewarded.
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Cinematic techniques create interest
timmy_50113 August 2011
Zhang Ke Jia's 24 City has an unusually oblique narrative, mostly told through a series of interviews that initially seem to have little connection to one another. As the film goes on, narrative threads begin to come together into a coherent whole. This narrative strategy is initially off putting but eventually yields dividends for the patient viewer.

The narrative has some interesting things to say about Chinese culture, which Zhang depicts as quite rigid with little mobility economically or geographically for most people. At the same time, people's situations aren't particularly stable as several workers talk about suddenly losing their jobs through no fault of their own. In spite of a lack of external motivation, citizens are expected to be very internally motivated and express this through patriotic team fervor and self-sacrifice.

In spite of how inherently un-cinematic the interviews (which make up the majority of this film) are, Zhang is able to bring his mastery of the medium to bear and 24 City ultimately transcends this limitation. One way he does this is to surround each interview segment with scenes full of action, such as numerous factory sequences and one memorable early shot taken from a moving truck. He also makes the interviews themselves visually interesting in a couple of way. First, most of the interviews incorporate some sort of background movement, including one that has two men playing badminton and another that offers frequent glimpses of foot traffic. Secondly, each interview takes place in a carefully designed space that tends to be both full of detail and reflective of the unique characteristics of the interviewee. Finally, he uses camera movements quite carefully for emphasis throughout. Ultimately, 24 City is an example of how carefully employed cinematic techniques can make even material which initially seems quite humdrum and unsuited for film into a memorably viewing experience.
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Best yet from Jia Zhangke
yc9557 July 2009
This movie is by far his best IMHO. The flow is engaging and natural while the 'empty' spaces in between narrations are not unlike those quiet passages in Chopin's piano pieces or the white spaces in the classic Chinese paintings.

I used to think Joan Chen only as a pretty face. But her performance here, even though short, changed my view completely. She can really act and act well! And she's still beautiful more than ever. Gawd bless her! The other pro actresses have proved their mastery in acting long ago and didn't disappoint here either.

But the most credit has to go to the writer/director Jia - these short stories never really intertwine with each other as a plot, but together they are so strong and compelling that makes any smart and coy plot pale in comparison. Jia again nailed the pulse of the real life drama right on without wasting much of anything.

I can't help but feel sympathetic to those who can't get 'it' because of the lack of background knowledge about the modern China. Only it's ironic, or even rather sad that, for such an iconic Chinese master movie maker with such a quintessential Chinese story telling, only found his fame mostly outside China today.

Once a famous jazz critic wrote that if you remove all the names of the white jazz players from its history, you haven't changed jazz a single bit. IMHO, by the time the outside world gets tired of the curiosity of Jia, over time his mastery will establish itself in China and only then will he find his real audience.
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Excellent documentary about life in a Chinese factory
eabakkum25 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In general documentaries are underrated, although they are often more perplexing than fiction. In particular the documentaries that employ a personal approach offer plenty of opportunities for empathy and identification. The film "24 city" about the life in a Chinese factory is certainly a piece of art. By sheer coincidence, China has been the host to many similar produces. Joris Ivens was hooked on China, and made among others "The 400 million" (1939, about the resistance against Japan), "La Pharmacie 3" (1976, about a pharmacy) and "Une histoire de ballon" (1976, about a school). The latter two documentaries were recorded during the notorious Cultural Revolution. Much later there was "China blue" of Peled, about life in a Chinese textile factory. And now we have "24 city", this time made by a native producer. We are introduced to some ten people with various backgrounds, who are in some way involved in factory 420. Their stories give a lively impression of the Chinese community and nation in the past sixty years. Of course the backcloth, the production for the military air force, is not neutral. It is well known from American research, that the military-industrial complex is cherished by the state and makes excessive profits. And indeed the laborers of factory 420 have privileged working conditions. Therefore it is surprising to hear, that after the war against Vietnam the factory came in penury, in spite of the strong national economic growth. The production even had to be diversified to fridges and washing machines for the consumer market. Obviously the Chinese politics has not been directed towards imperialism. On the other hand, it suggests the attempt of the military to penetrate civil markets, similar to the habits in for instance Egypt. In the same vein, the factory apparently engages in the development of real estate. The factory 420 employed several thousands of workers, which had been mainly recruited from the country side. In fact the film shots suggest that the equipment is primitive and outdated. The location Chengdu had been selected, because in the fifties its position appeared safe from a strategic point of view. The first workers had to travel for two weeks in order to reach their new destination (and afterwards didn't have enough money to visit their family). A moving story tells about a married couple, who on their journey to the factory lost their little son during an intermediate stop. You would guess that they would temporarily split up or so in order to find him, but no, they didn't want to miss the boat and simply continued their journey without the boy. Perhaps this is less astounding, if you consider the instrumental role of children in large parts of Asia (and South-America and Africa, by the way). Lack of food and health care, physical cruelty and even infanticide are common. Considering that the production is on a mass scale and cheap labor prohibits the automation, the activities in the factory are repetitive and mind numbing (a characteristic of all serial production). Still the original workers, who undoubtedly remember the past famines, accept these circumstances. On the other hand, the youth of the past decades appears to develop a different attitude, and demand satisfaction in their work (which however in an industrial environment seems too ambitious). The film clearly shows that since the fifties the young workers had always craved for a marriage, but apparently especially the earlier generations experienced severe problems, due to the loss of their traditional society and due to lacking personal social skills. In spite of the Cultural Revolution, class differences still abound (the inequality in China and the USA is comparable). There is little room for happiness and social well-being in factory 420. Still, the Bolshevists tried to create close and autonomous communities in their factories. Just like the others, factory 420 had its own schools, cultural and sporting facilities and even food. The workers engage in social games in tea houses, and in dancing and singing (The Internationale in Chinese). All in all, "24 city" definitely is thought-provoking. The geostrategical importance of China explodes, and therefore the introduction of democratic control mechanisms is clearly overdue. You can see in the film how its absence keeps the people in a strait-jacket. If you enjoy social and labor issues, consider seeing my other reviews (I discovered 24 city thanks to a reference).
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Glacially slow and achingly sad
rogerdarlington18 May 2010
Not many Chinese films obtain a release in Western cinemas. Those that do tend to be set in the distant past and have large casts, colourful costumes and exciting action - think "Hero", "House Of Flying Daggers", "Curse Of The Golden Flower" and "Red Cliff". This is not one of those movies. "24 City" is contemporary in subject, pedestrian in pacing, and documentary in style (director Jia Zhang-ke uses a mix of real characters and actors including Joan Chen).

It is set in the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in south-west China, which I visited a few weeks before seeing the film and I took along two friends from Sichuan who know the city well. It tells the terribly sad tale of the closure of a factory, which once employed 4,000 workers on the manufacture of military hardware, so that the site can be used for a modern complex of apartments and hotels - the 24 City of the title.

The unusual part documentary/part fiction style - there are five authentic interviews and four fictional scenes delivered by actors - means that the work lacks the 'bite' of a real documentary and the narrative of full fiction, but the critics liked it.
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bad DVD design, good film. i enjoyed it.
Hunky Stud12 July 2012
That DVD design looked as if it was about a japan military story, because their military flag looks similar.

This film is like an authentic documentary. The few famous actors appeared in it did a good job. Even though you know who they are in real life, but they acted as if they were really part of that factory.

And I loved it when Joan chen spoke shanghai dialect, it is rare for a Chinese film to use shanghai dialect. It is sort of forbidden by the Chinese communist party. If hong kong was a part of China since 1949, then there won't be any cantonese films at all, because the CCP forces every film to be made in mandarin Chinese only.

I also liked it when Joan chen spoke her mandarin with a shanghai accent. she can speak perfect mandarin, but she did it to make her role more authentic.

Time is changing, I believe what those people said in this film really reflect what is happening to those factory workers who were laid off.
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Cowardly depiction of a factory closure in China
freeds26 October 2008
Chris Knipp's review of "24 City" (this film's English title) contains many useful details, which I need not recapitulate. It also contains some misstatements, which I would like to correct, and omits the sort of political insights which this interested observer of Chinese politics since the late 1950s would like to supply.

Among the misstatements: to say that the "dim-witted" (i.e. semi-senile) retired worker who receives a long-delayed visit from his former apprentice was a "master of the factory" gives an inaccurate impression. The man was the head of a production team, not of the entire factory. While the film certainly is quite slow-moving, it is an exaggeration to say that "one person or a group look(ed) silently into the camera for a minute or so." I also don't agree that the film tells a "tale of repression," not in the true political sense of the word, anyway. Had the workers waged a mass struggle to convert their factory to some other use or, at least, to move their jobs to some other site, then we might have seen some actual repression (attacks by cops, arrests etc.) — if the director had the guts to show it to us, that is. Finally, where did Chris get "Later (Factory) 420 was retooled to produce peacetime products such as washing machines."? Neither my wife nor I noticed any such comment in the film.

The scene mentioned above between former master and apprentice was extremely touching. But were these men the actual workers or were they actors? As soon as I became aware that actors were delivering some of the "interviews," my opinion of this film plummeted. Chris accepted this as necessary: "Actors are used for some of the people because Jia interviewed 130 people and had to create composites." "Had to"? Were the originals not photogenic enough? Did they not tell their stories engagingly enough? Or was the director so inept that he didn't get some of the interviews on film? Later, though, Chris said that this method "undercut the sense of realism." And how! The New York Film Festival's (NYFF) introduction was similarly divided about whether the film was more documentary or more fictional. "24 City's" most blatantly phony "testimony" was that of "Little Flower," a mature female "factory worker," played by the widely-known, glamorous actress Joan Chen. When "Little Flower" relates her unlucky-in-love history, she mentions that her coworkers said she looked just like the actress Joan Chen! Cute, no? The fact that director JiaZhangKe (the format in which his name appears in the film's credits) wasted time and effort on this completely dispensable item reflects the weakness underlying his whole approach to the project.

Chris said that the director's previous work "seems to have given way (here) to adverts for capitalism." It seemed to me that the director evinced a significant ideological dilemma: either he doesn't know exactly where he stands or, if he does, he doesn't have the guts to tell us. The film contains several HINTS of nostalgia for the early years of the People's Republic, including the description by a long-time plant security official of Factory 420's important role in producing jet engines for Chinese and North Korean military aircraft during the "struggle against U.S. Imperialism" (i.e. what the U.S. calls the "Korean War"). Imagine — there still are people in China who are capable of using such terminology! Then there is the brief scene of a group of middle-aged women (workers from Factory 420?) singing "The Internationale" (which, contrary to the NYFF's introduction, is NOT a "pop song"). Who-when-where-why? Sorry, the director doesn't bother to provide such details.

What the director DOES NOT tell us is at the heart of what is wrong with this film. During the Q&A session after the film's NYFF premier, JiaZhangKe mentioned that the destruction of Factory 420 resulted in the loss of their jobs by about 30,000 workers. Why the hell didn't he put this little detail into the film? Were these workers offered other jobs or retraining for such? Did they receive severance pay and if so, how much? Did they receive unemployment compensation and, if so, how much and for how long? Did they lose their factory-associated housing, medical care and schooling for their children? Such information would have been useful to those interested in the sociology and political economy of contemporary China but providing it was not on JiaZhangKe's agenda.

What was JiaZhangKe's purpose in showing us the visit by the stylish young professional shopper to her mother's factory, where she sees for the first time the miserable, oppressive nature of her mother's job and weeps? Was he simply promoting sympathy for the older generation or did he think that the "transition to a market economy" will eliminate the need for such degrading labor? (A close look at the vast number of numbingly repetitive jobs in the highly capitalized modern factories of the "world's workshop" would dispel any such illusion.)

Why does "24 City" only contain interviews with workers laid off from Factory 420 in the 1990s and earlier? Why no interviews with ANY of the thousands being laid off as Factory 420 is torn down to make room for a five-star hotel? Might such workers have been too angry? Might they have made intemperate comments about China's rulers? The cowardliness involved in this deficiency is breathtaking! JiaZhangKe poses as sympathetic to those who suffer from capitalist development but doesn't want to go too far in that direction because he is not completely opposed to this process. Nor does he want to cut off his access to the lucrative capitalist world film market. His invocation of the mystical, reactionary poetry of W. B. Yeats is but one signal of his orientation to that market and of his willingness to "go along."

Barry Freed
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24 City
MartinTeller6 January 2012
As a factory is torn down to make way for a snazzy modern apartment complex, a group of people connected with the factory share their thoughts on how it affected their lives. The film is wonderful aesthetically, with gorgeous compositions, lovely use of music, and a poetic air to it, assisted by actual snippets of poetry in the inter titles. Something of a companion piece to STILL LIFE, Jia explores the consequences of urban renewal, and how our city landscapes shape who we are. Most intriguingly, he obliterates the line between documentary and drama, to the point where it almost seems useless to distinguish between them. Like Herzog, he's shooting for an "ecstatic truth," one that reflects reality without necessarily sticking to it. For the most part, it's an effective and engaging technique. The most glaring exception is Joan Chen, whose is of course recognizable but also comes off a bit too "actor-y" and her performance feels out of place. And there's the added distraction of her playing a person who resembles Joan Chen. It's just too nudge-nudge wink-wink meta. It didn't work in OCEAN'S TWELVE and it doesn't work here. I found Tao Zhao's performance a little phony as well. But it's certainly an interesting piece of work, covering the breadth of humanity with just a handful of monologues, in stories both universal and specific, and often heartbreaking.
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Social relevance
lreynaert13 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The dismantling of an old military factory and its replacement by the immense '24 City complex' of luxury flats and shopping malls in Chengdu is a perfect image of the socio-economic upheaval in China. It is the old communist credo - first the heavy industry and then consumption – on its head.

As a great admirer of Bertolt Brecht ('Still Life' was inspired by the 'Good Person of Szechwan'), Jia Zhang Ke analyzes brilliantly the impact of socio-economic policies on individual lives. He never forgets the human touch, here in the reactions of three different generations linked to the factory.

This factory was in fact a State secret, a hidden military plant for repairing airplanes. Mao had ordered that all military factories had to be hidden in the mountains in Central China. Their workforce had a privileged status for food, drinks, housing or entertainment. It formed a village of its own, nearly totally cut from the rest of the population of the city. This tightly knit group had its own histories of love, jealousy, family splits and losses, of camaraderie and solidarity. Jia Zhang Ke used professional actors, like Joan Chen, and amateurs in his movie in order to illustrate forcefully the human impact of the demolition of a landscape. The interviews revive reminiscences of crucial incidents that marked people for the rest of their lives. The demolition means sorrow and nostalgia for the old labor force, but also new opportunities for the new generation. The movie illustrates the monumental gap between the living conditions of the old generation (absolutely no waste of food, clothes or spare parts) and the new one (buying expensive gadgets in Hong Kong).

Of course, the interview technique has been used in many movies (probably one of the first was 'Hitler, never heard of him' by Bertrand Blier), but rarely this technique has created a docu-drama of such gripping intensity as here. Jia Zhang Ke made a very original and highly emotional and moving masterpiece. A must see for all movie buffs.
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