DVDs have been both bad and good for Jia Zhang-ke, Chinese writer-director of “Platform” and the just-released “The World.” The advent of pirated discs across his homeland meant his work and those of fellow Chinese artists were being stolen. But, as Jia observes in an interview with Les Inrockuptibles film critic Frederic Bonnaud, it also meant that his films could be seen by a wider public.
What the interview fails to explain for the Western viewer is that until late 2003, Jia and many of the important so-called “Sixth Generation” filmmakers were “unofficial” in the eyes of the Chinese government, and therefore functioned like underground artists, viewed only on pirated discs. This wrinkle on the piracy debate is only one of several ways in which Jia’s cinema — and “Platform” in particular — compel non-Chinese to look at Chinese film with fresh eyes.
“Platform” spans a crucial historical period (1979-1990) in which the age of Mao receded and gave way to the age of pop and consumerism and can be seen as the landmark film of the post-Mao generation.
The interview reps one of a few extras that make this by far the most thorough English-language homevideo release yet of a Jia film, making up for New Yorker’s rather skimpy package last year for “Unknown Pleasures.”
Even better, the transfer is vastly preferable to the somewhat muddy U.K. version from Artificial Eye, with brighter and sharper subtitles. The Bonnaud interview, in which Jia reflects on how he felt vulnerable while filming (even if the film itself exudes supreme confidence), is part of a longer interview, a different portion of which can be seen on Artificial Eye’s double-disc release of “Xiao Wu” and “Unknown Pleasures.”
A ragged, loose and unsubtitled video recording of Jia and his crew at work is an eccentric and worthy feature among the bonuses, which include an information-stuffed brochure , a thoughtful essay by Chinese film expert Shelly Kraicer, critic Tony Rayns’ 2000 interview with Jia, and a helpful note on how “Platform” was trimmed from its festival premiere cut of more than three hours to 150 minutes.