With his documentary-style films reflecting upon China’s unprecedented transformation from a state-controlled to a market-driven economy, Jia Zhangke has risen from within the movement of independent Chinese cinema that began to flourish in the late 1990s to become one of the most recognized filmmakers of contemporary China. Born in 1970 and raised in the underdeveloped Shanxi Province, Jia studied film theory at Beijing Film Academy and was first noticed for his controversial “Hometown Trilogy”—Pickpocket (Xiao Wu, 1997), Platform (Zhantai, 1999), and Unknown Pleasures (Ren xiao yao, 2002). These three films, shot with handheld video camera on the streets of his hometown province, focus on the reckless changes that China’s aggressive economic growth and globalization have brought to socially marginalized groups. Like other independently made films—films that are produced with capital from outside the state-sponsored avenues and without the approval of film censorship, and that are not allowed to be shown in China’s public theaters—Jia’s first three films reach domestic audiences only through unofficial DVD copies and small-scaled screenings at universities, film bars, and art salons. His limited domestic influence sharply contrasts with the critical acclaim that he receives from international film festival audiences, who are searching for alternative film culture from China after the Fifth Generation directors. By the late 1990s, Jia had become a spokesperson for an ever-increasing group of aspiring Chinese independent filmmakers, particularly through writings and interviews that theorize independent Chinese cinema’s practice.
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