Chinese filmmaker Ji Zhangke prior to a special screening of his latest film “I Wish I Knew” at Shanghai Film Art Center on July 14.
Poster for “I Wish I Knew”
The Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club last night played host to Jia Zhangke, the man NPR recently dubbed “the most important filmmaker working in the world today.” The evening began at Shanghai Film Art Center with a special screening of Jia’s latest film, the Shanghai-focused documentary I Wish I Knew (《海上传奇》), released to coincide with the ongoing World Expo. The viewing was followed by a Q&A with the director down the road at Cotton’s on Xinhua Lu. You can listen to that 76-minute session right here (in Chinese with English translations):
[The recording begins in the middle of Jia’s response to the first question which focused on how Jia got started making films.]
Earlier this year, I Wish I Knew was an “Un Certain Regard” selection at the Cannes Film Festival. Here’s the synopsis from the Cannes website:
Shanghai, a fast-changing metropolis, a port city where people come and go.
Shanghai has hosted all kinds of people – revolutionaries, capitalists, politicians, soldiers, artists, and gangsters. Shanghai has also hosted revolutions, assassinations, love stories.
After the Chinese Communists’ victory in 1949, thousands of Shanghaiers left for Hong Kong and Taiwan. To leave meant being separated from home for thirty years; to stay meant suffering through the Cultural Revolution and China’s other political disasters.
I Wish I Knew, which features snippets of interviews with 18 different subjects, has not been as well received by foreign critics as many of Jia’s previous efforts, and I can see where The Hollywood Reporter‘s Maggie Lee is coming from when she calls the film “a patchwork quilt with too many fabrics and patterns”:
The film suffers from information deficiency, so while Chinese can relate to most of their conversations yet find the content familiar, overseas audiences are adrift in a sea of non-chronological memories.
But for those of us with a connection to Shanghai — no matter how tenuous — I Wish I Knew is well worth watching. There are some wonderful moments to be found in its 125-minute running time, and the cinematography by Yu Likwai is beautiful as usual. It’s during the glimpses of seemingly mundane Shanghai life, as seen through the eyes of Jia and Yu, that I Wish I Knew really comes to life. I mean who wouldn’t enjoy watching a World Expo construction worker show off his hip-hop dance moves? (Honestly, I could have done with more of that kind of content and much less of the film’s only “scripted” plotline, which followed actress Zhao Tao as she wandered the streets of a changing Shanghai in search of … something. That storyline never really went anywhere for me.)
I Wish I Knew will enjoy a 100-day run at the World Expo, so you’ll have plenty of time to check it out and form your own opinions about it. Here are the details we have, via the World Expo Twitter feed:
Expo documentary film “I wish I knew”, directed by Jia Zhangke, is being shown >10 times/day at Expo Culture Center for 3 months.
Finally, here’s an interview with Jia that talks about his surprising outlet for creative expression in the 1980s — breakdancing. And below are four YouTube videos related to I Wish I Knew. The first is the trailer (Chinese only) and the last three are movie clips with English subtitles.