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24 City 

Wednesday, Jul 29 2009
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Jia Zhangke’s last feature, Still Life (2006), was set in Fengjie, an ancient river city flooded and rebuilt as part of China’s monumental Three Gorges Dam Project; his latest, 24 City, takes place in and around a giant, formerly-top-secret aircraft plant in Chengdu City, Sichuan. Again, the subject is displacement. Having been purchased by a state-controlled real estate developer, China Resources, Factory 420 is slated for demolition. More precisely, it will be converted into a luxury housing complex named 24 City—condos at a cost of only 20,000 jobs. 24 City is largely oral history, real and invented. It’s mainly populated by retired workers, posed in situ and talking about their lives—flesh-and-blood monuments of Mao’s China. But 24 City is not exactly cinema vérité. Jia originally planned to make two movies about Factory 420, one fictional and the other documentary. To the discomfit of many critics, however, the two modes merged in a single work: 24 City is more obviously documentary than most of Jia’s fiction films, and also vice versa. Three of the interviews are staged. Released a few months back in China, it has proven to be Jia’s most commercially successful film, but it’s not an easy movie to read. What is one to make of the casually revealed information that the movie itself was partially financed by 24 City’s developer? Have we been watching a kind of infomercial? Is there irony or pathos in the juxtaposition of retired workers enthusiastically singing “The International” as their factory collapses?
July 31-Aug. 14, 2009

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J. Hoberman

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