24 CITY (Er shi si cheng ji)

(director/writer: Jia Zhang-ke; cinematographers: Yu Likwai/Wang Yu; editors: Lin Xudong/Kong Jinlai/Li Haiyang; music: Yoshihiro Hanno/Lim Giong; cast: Joan Chen (Gu Minhua), Lv Liping (Hao Dali), Zhao Tao (Su Na), Chen Jianbin (Zhao Gang); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Masayuki Mori/Yoshida Takio/Sadai Yuji/Kubo Satoshi/Xu Pengle/Zhu Jiong/Ma Ning; Cinema Guild; 2008-China-in Mandarin with English subtitles)

“Reflective historical documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (“Still Life”/”The World”/”Cry Me a River”), of the sixth generation of Chinese filmmakers, directs this reflective historical documentary on ordinary Chinese workers and films it with a static camera and a series of interviews with actors and real workers (mainly retired factory workers). It’s set in and around a huge, formerly top-secret aircraft plant in Chengdu City, Sichuan (founded in 1958). The factory, at the end of the Vietnam War, switched over to manufacturing mainly refrigerators. The site is known as Factory 420; it has been purchased by a state-controlled real estate developer, China Resources, and is scheduled to be demolished and converted into a luxury housing complex and a futuristic complex for commercial businesses named 24 City (named after a poem).

24 City tells of change, displacement and an uncertain future that will hopefully lead to progress through technology (a result of movement to a free-market economy).

Though mired in Communist nostalgia, Jia’s treatment of the event is artistically framed with striking visuals, always filled with refreshing flesh-and-blood stories, poetry (Yeats) and pop songs. The beauty of it and fault of it, is that you can make of it whatever you care to. It comes with both real history and invented history (there are four fictionalized monologues by actors and five true monologues by actual workers). The imaginary monologue by Joan Chen as a beautiful middle-aged single woman factory worker looking for romance but finding herself snake bitten was the most compelling one presented, especially since the character Joan portrays is noted for looking like the “Little Flower”–a part played by Joan from the 1978 Cultural Revolution classic film that made her a star.