Jia Zhangke is a highly acclaimed Chinese film director and screenwriter known for his realistic and poignant portrayal of contemporary China.

His films often explore themes of social change, economic development, and the impact of modernization on traditional Chinese culture. Here are some of his best films:

“Still Life” (2006) – This film tells the story of two individuals who travel to the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River to search for their missing spouses.

The film is a haunting and poetic meditation on the impact of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the people and the environment of the region.

“A Touch of Sin” (2013) – This film is a searing critique of corruption and inequality in contemporary China. The film weaves together four stories of individuals pushed to the brink of violence by their struggles against a corrupt and oppressive society.

“Mountains May Depart” (2015) – This film spans three time periods, exploring the evolution of Chinese society from the early 2000s to the year 2025. It tells the story of a woman torn between two men and the impact of her choices on her family and loved ones.

“Platform” (2000) – This film tells the story of a group of young performers in the 1970s who travel around China to perform revolutionary plays. The film is a nostalgic tribute to a bygone era and a poignant reflection on the changes in Chinese society.

“Unknown Pleasures” (2002) – This film follows two disaffected teenagers living in a rapidly changing industrial town in northern China. The film is a raw and unflinching portrayal of the lives of young people left behind by China’s economic transformation.

Jia Zhangke’s films are notable for their realistic depiction of contemporary China, exploring the social and cultural changes that have occurred over the past few decades.

Best Jia Zhangke Films

His films are marked by a deep sense of empathy for his characters and an ability to capture the complexity and nuance of modern Chinese life.

1. A Touch of Sin (2013)

“A Touch of Sin” is a 2013 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The film tells four different stories of violence and corruption in contemporary China, inspired by real-life events.

Each story is set in a different part of the country and explores different social issues such as wealth inequality, government corruption, and the struggles of migrant workers.

The film is notable for its stunning visuals, which contrast the natural beauty of the Chinese landscape with the harsh realities of modern life. The violence and brutality depicted in the film are juxtaposed with the beauty of the scenery, creating a stark contrast that adds to the film’s impact.

“A Touch of Sin” received critical acclaim for its powerful storytelling, stunning visuals, and social commentary.

   

The film won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and was named one of the top 10 films of 2013 by the National Board of Review. It is a thought-provoking and impactful film that sheds light on the complex social issues facing contemporary China.

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2. Ash Is Purest White (2018)

“Ash Is Purest White” is a Chinese drama film directed by Jia Zhangke and released in 2018. The film follows the story of a woman named Qiao, who lives in a small mining town in China in 2001.

Qiao is in a relationship with a local mobster named Bin, and she becomes involved in his criminal activities.

When Bin is attacked by a rival gang, Qiao takes the blame for him and is sentenced to five years in prison. When she is released, she sets out on a journey to find Bin and reconnect with him. The film explores themes of love, loyalty, and survival, as Qiao navigates a rapidly changing China.

The lead performance by Zhao Tao was praised for its emotional depth and subtle nuances. The film also received critical acclaim for its beautiful cinematography and evocative score.

“Ash Is Purest White” was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and was included in many year-end lists for the best films of 2018.

The film is a powerful and moving exploration of the human condition and the things that drive us to survive and persevere in the face of adversity. It offers a unique perspective on contemporary China and the social and economic changes that have shaped its people’s lives.

Ash Is Purest White
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Zhao Tao, 廖凡 (Actors)
  • Jia Zhang-Ke (Director) - Jia Zhang-Ke (Writer) - Shôzô Ichiyama (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

3. Still Life (2003)

“Still Life” is a 2006 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The film tells the story of two people who arrive in Fengjie, a city that is being destroyed and submerged by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

The two main characters, Sanming and Shen Hong, are both searching for their spouses, who they have not seen in years.

The film is a poignant exploration of the impact of the construction of the dam on the lives of ordinary people. It depicts the chaotic and confusing process of relocation, as people are forced to leave their homes and businesses behind.

Through the eyes of the two protagonists, the film captures the emotional toll of the transformation, as well as the environmental destruction that is taking place.

   

“Still Life” is notable for its slow, contemplative pace and its evocative imagery. Jia Zhangke’s use of long takes and static shots creates a sense of stillness and melancholy that perfectly captures the mood of the film.

The film is also notable for its use of non-professional actors, who give naturalistic and convincing performances.

“Still Life” was well-received by critics and audiences alike, and won several awards at international film festivals. The film is widely regarded as a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese cinema, and as one of the best works of Jia Zhangke’s career.

Still Life
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Schneider, Norbert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 216 Pages - 06/01/2003 (Publication Date) - TASCHEN (Publisher)

4. Platform (2000)

“Platform” is a 2000 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The movie follows a group of young people who form a state-run travelling performance troupe in the 1980s, just as China begins to open up to the world.

The film spans over a decade and covers the changes that occurred in China during that time, including the rise of capitalism and the decline of state control.

The film explores themes of cultural identity, generational conflict, and the effects of modernization on traditional Chinese culture. The characters in the film struggle with their own aspirations and dreams as they try to navigate the rapidly changing society around them.

“Platform” received critical acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of the characters and their struggles, as well as its commentary on the larger changes taking place in China during the period.

   

The film has been praised for its authenticity and emotional depth, as well as its portrayal of a China that is in transition. It is considered one of the key works of contemporary Chinese cinema and a masterpiece of director Jia Zhangke.

Platform
  • Hongwei Wang, Tao Zhao (Actor)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

4. I Wish I Knew (2010)

“I Wish I Knew” is a Chinese documentary film directed by Jia Zhangke and released in 2010. The film explores the history and cultural identity of Shanghai, one of China’s most iconic cities, through the stories of its residents.

The film is structured around interviews with 18 individuals who have lived through different periods of Shanghai’s history, including the Japanese occupation, the Communist revolution, and the cultural revolution.

These personal accounts are interwoven with historical footage and images of the city, creating a rich tapestry of memories and experiences.

“I Wish I Knew” offers a nuanced and multifaceted perspective on Shanghai’s past, present, and future. It explores themes of memory, identity, and cultural heritage, while also commenting on the rapid social and economic changes that have transformed the city in recent years.

The film received critical acclaim and was included in many year-end lists for the best films of 2010. It is a deeply moving and insightful work that offers a powerful reflection on the human experience and the impact of history and culture on our lives.

I Wish I Knew
  • Zhao Tao (Actor)
  • Jia Zhangke (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

5. Mountains May Depart (2015)

“Mountains May Depart” is a 2015 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The film follows three interconnected stories that span three time periods, from the early 2000s to the year 2025.

The film explores the impact of China’s rapid economic growth and social changes on the lives of ordinary people.

The first segment of the film takes place in the year 1999 and tells the story of a love triangle between a young woman, Tao, and two men, Liangzi and Zhang.

The second segment takes place in the year 2014 and depicts Tao’s life as a single mother struggling to make ends meet. The final segment takes place in the year 2025, in which Tao’s son, Dollar, is a young man living in Australia and trying to reconnect with his roots.

Through the three stories, “Mountains May Depart” explores the complexities of modern Chinese life, touching on themes of love, family, class, and the challenges of adaptation in a rapidly changing world. The film is notable for its contemplative and melancholy tone, as well as its striking use of color and imagery.

Jia Zhangke’s direction is masterful, capturing the nuances of the characters’ emotions and the intricate connections between their stories. The film also features strong performances from its lead actors, especially Zhao Tao as the resilient and complex protagonist, Tao.

“Mountains May Depart” was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences, and won several awards at international film festivals. It is widely regarded as one of Jia Zhangke’s best films, and as a poignant and powerful exploration of the human impact of China’s economic transformation.

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Mountains May Depart
  • Sylvia Chang, Zhao Tao, Zhang Yi (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

6. Xiao Wu (Pickpocket) (1997)

“Xiao Wu” (also known as “Pickpocket”) is a 1997 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The movie is about a small-time pickpocket named Xiao Wu, played by Wang Hongwei, who lives in a small town in Shanxi province.

The film follows Xiao Wu as he tries to navigate life in a changing society, where the old ways of life are giving way to modernization and the rise of capitalism.

The film is known for its stark portrayal of the struggles of working-class people in contemporary China, as well as its raw, unvarnished depiction of the daily lives of people on the margins of society. The film explores themes of alienation, loneliness, and the search for identity in a rapidly changing world.

“Xiao Wu” received critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of working-class life in China, as well as its social commentary and striking cinematography.

The film has been praised for its honesty and authenticity, as well as its portrayal of a China that is in transition.

It is considered one of the key works of the Chinese “Sixth Generation” of filmmakers, who sought to create a new kind of Chinese cinema that reflected the realities of contemporary life.

Xiao WU, Artisan Pickpocket
  • Zhang-Ke Jia (Author)
  • French (Subtitle)
  • French (Publication Language)

7. Unknown Pleasures (2002)

“Unknown Pleasures” is a 2002 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. The movie is set in the industrial city of Datong and follows two young men, Binbin and Xiao Ji, as they struggle to find their place in a rapidly changing society.

The film explores themes of alienation, disillusionment, and the search for identity in a society that is undergoing profound changes.

The two main characters are disillusioned with the world around them and dream of escaping their humdrum lives. Binbin becomes involved in a plot to rob a bank, while Xiao Ji falls in love with a young woman who is involved in a smuggling ring.

“Unknown Pleasures” received critical acclaim for its poignant portrayal of the struggles of young people in contemporary China, as well as its social commentary and striking cinematography.

The film has been praised for its honesty and authenticity, as well as its portrayal of a China that is in transition.

It is considered one of the key works of the Chinese “Sixth Generation” of filmmakers, who sought to create a new kind of Chinese cinema that reflected the realities of contemporary life.

Unknown Pleasures
  • Ai Jun, Ren, Bai, Ru, Liu, Xi An (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

3 Characteristics of Jia Zhangke Films

Jia Zhangke is a Chinese filmmaker known for his socially conscious and politically charged films. Here are three characteristics that are often present in his works:

Social commentary: Jia Zhangke’s films often explore the effects of social and economic changes on China’s people and society. He has been described as a “chronicler of contemporary China,” and his films often depict the struggles and challenges faced by ordinary Chinese citizens in a rapidly changing world.

Introspective characters: Jia Zhangke’s films often feature characters who are introspective and introspective, struggling to find their place in society or questioning the values and beliefs they have been taught.

These characters often serve as vehicles for Jia to explore deeper themes of identity, morality, and personal responsibility.

Blend of fiction and non-fiction: Jia Zhangke’s films often blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction, using documentary footage and real-life events to create a heightened sense of realism.

He often uses non-professional actors in his films, which adds to the authenticity of the performances and the stories being told.

Overall, Jia Zhangke’s films are often characterized by their bold and unflinching portrayals of Chinese society and their focus on the personal struggles of individuals living in a rapidly changing world.

His works are powerful commentaries on the human experience, and their themes are universal and relevant to audiences all over the world.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Jia Zhangke Films

Social commentary: Jia Zhangke’s films offer a unique and nuanced perspective on contemporary China, exploring the impact of the country’s rapid economic and social changes on ordinary people.

His films often offer social commentary on issues such as corruption, inequality, and the erosion of traditional culture.

Poetic realism: Jia Zhangke is known for his poetic and visually stunning style of filmmaking. His films often feature slow, contemplative pacing, and striking imagery that captures the essence of his characters and the environments they inhabit.

His films are a feast for the senses and offer a unique and immersive cinematic experience.

Exploration of human experience: Jia Zhangke’s films are characterized by their deep empathy and compassion for his characters, who are often struggling to adapt to the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

Through his stories, Jia Zhangke explores the human experience in all its complexity, touching on themes of love, family, identity, and the search for meaning and purpose in life. His films are deeply moving and offer a powerful insight into the human condition.

Best Jia Zhangke Films – Wrapping Up

Jia Zhangke is a highly respected filmmaker known for his poignant, visually stunning films that explore the complexities of modern China and the human experience. Here are three of his best films:

“Still Life” (2006): A poetic and visually stunning film that explores the human impact of China’s rapid development through the stories of two individuals who travel to a small town that is about to be flooded by the Three Gorges Dam project. T

he film won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and is widely regarded as Jia Zhangke’s masterpiece.

“Mountains May Depart” (2015): A visually stunning and emotionally resonant film that follows three interconnected stories spanning three time periods, exploring the impact of China’s rapid economic growth and social changes on the lives of ordinary people.

“A Touch of Sin” (2013): A gripping and violent film that explores the impact of corruption and inequality on Chinese society through the stories of four individuals who resort to violent means to resist the status quo.

The film won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and is one of Jia Zhangke’s most powerful and socially relevant works.

Each of these films showcases Jia Zhangke’s masterful direction, unique perspective on contemporary China, and his ability to capture the complexities of the human experience.