Jia Zhangke at a press conference celebrating the start of the production phase of Shanghai Legend, the official Shanghai Expo 2010 movie.
Jia’s film, tentatively titled Shanghai Legend (上海傳奇), is scheduled to be finished towards the end of this year/beginning of next, and will be premiered around April 2010.
So if you see a slightly short and stocky Shanxi dude with a cigarette and a video camera walking around town in the next month, get him to sign your boobs. According to Chinese reports Jia is shooting footage in Shanghai for about a month, while the rest of the time will be devoted to getting archival footage. He and his team are making this a global project— they will travel the world to find archival footage or historical materials pertaining to Shanghai, while another leg of the project invovles them going to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York City to investigate the trails of the Shanghainese diaspora.
The film is about two hours long and will supposedly be shot in a style similar to that of 24 City. Thankfully it’s just two hours, because if you’ve ever seen his films (a few of which are around or comfortably over the two hour mark) you know they can often be slow in that contemplative, he-who-really-understands-the-temporality-of-the-cinematic-medium-a la-Tarkovsky-or-some-other-somber-auteur-of-eastern-bloc-vintage kind of way. All joking aside, Jia’s tendency to switch between and merge fact and fiction make him and ideal candidate for such a film, though when you think “official movie of the Shanghai Expo” you get images of most-fuckin-annoying-mascot-of-all-time Haibo dancing around while children sing about a better city and better life. Jia’s films were great precisely because they have always gone in the opposite direction: Platform, Unknown Pleasures, Xiao Wu, 24 City and the others—all seem to have that quality of what in Chinese one might call 歷史滄桑 (lishicangsang): a social (in the sense of both individual and collective, mutually constitutive) search for lost time, for stories that might otherwise get submerged by the inexorable march of History towards better cities and better lives. In fact, Jia’s films, many shot around his podunk hometown, are ‘records’ of all the shitty cities and shitty lives that might just one day vanish. You might, in some strange hangover induced fit of academic inspiration, claim that Jia’s films are like Hegel’s Owl of Minerva, which only spreads its wings at dusk—recording moments just a little too late to change things, but quick enough to still shed some light for those of us who were around or, more accurately, those who still feel the need to remember.
But shiznit, it’s just the Expo—so we don’t fear for Jia’s artistic integrity, at least not yet. Jia’s said that two-thirds of this movie are going to be about history of Shanghai. During a press conference Jia mentioned an anecdote about the writer Lu Shi’e (陸士諤), who, at the age of 32 in 1910, wrote about what Shanghai would be a hundred years hence—and many of the descriptions—big lights big city, big bridges, big numbers of people—were spot on. Lu also mentions that there will be some kind of Expo attracting large numbers of visitors from around the world (perhaps he had heard of the one in Paris), and so, as Jia Zhangke said a few days ago: “Shanghai might be one of the only cities that has actually achieved its own dreams.” We hope his movie won’t be as cheesy as that. And we wish death and eternal damnation upon Haibo.