I-Wish-i-knew

Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew blends interviews of historical figures, archival footage from Chinese cinema and snippets of mostly non-dialogic fictional drama to tell the story of Shanghai. But Jia no longer seems obsessed with the dichotomy of past versus future as he had been in his previous films. In Still Life, a building in the background suddenly launches off like a spaceship. In The World, audiences are startled by abrupt animated sequences featuring cell phones. In contrast, in this film, Jia regular Zhao Tao focuses only on the past. Dressed all in white, Zhao haunts the various nooks and crannies of the ancient port city, wistfully and silently walking around like a phantom. Jia has said, “Chinese society is moving so doggedly forward, I need to gather evidence of the way we’ve been in the past.” And true to his word, Jia has chosen the genre of the historical martial arts epic as his next project. With I Wish I Knew–a film whose aesthetics fall in line with the genre he has referred to as “documentary realism”–Jia has once again shown why many regard him as the preeminent practitioner of China’s digital cinema movement.