Jia Zhangke is a prominent name in Chinese independent film industry, whose films have received critical praise and have been recognized internationally. In his films, Jia tends to focus on humanity and narrate stories in a documentary way rather than using magic realism. His films treat themes of alienated youth, contemporary Chinese history and globalization. NPR critic John Powers described him as perhaps “the most important filmmaker working in the world today.” German critic Ulrich Gregor also acclaimed Jia “a beacon of hope for Asian cinema”
In 1993, Jia enrolled in Beijing Film Academy, as a film theory major, giving him access to both western and eastern classics, as well as an extensive film library. He finished his first short film Xiaoshan Going Home during his studying which won the top prize at the 1997 Hong Kong Independent Short Film& Video Awards as well as brought him to the attention of the film world. At the same year, his first feature film Xiao Wu screened in the “Forum” section at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival. Cahiers du Cinéma reviewed Xiaowu “is out of the traditional Chinese film, a symbol of Chinese film revival and vitality.”
As Jia’s early films were made out of China’s state-run bureaucracy, they are considered “underground” films. Until 2004, his The World, was well received both abroad and surprisingly by Chinese government. However, the shift to legitimacy did not blunt his critical eye, The World still presents a unique understanding of Chinese society.
In 2006, his Still Life won the Golden Lion at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. The film is about two strangers searching for their spouses in the backdrop of Three Gorges Dam, their parallel quests for their beloved missing ones signify the urgency to retrieve what lies hidden in the past, as man is dwarfed by an ever-changing landscape which threatens to bury one’s memories deep under water.
Jia Zhangke’s films have his own world as well as consider the meaning of world-changing, as he said “I would love to care about ordinary people’s lives in my films, to respect secular society, to feel the joy and heaviness of every life.”