×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jia Zhangke on Making His Most Expensive Film Yet, But Maintaining an Indie ‘Spirit’

Jia Zhangke has been at the forefront of China’s indie cinema movement for two decades, with titles that have included “Still Life,” “Platform,” and “A Touch of Sin.”

His latest feature, “Ash Is Purest White” (“Jiang Hu Er Nv”) which played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is by far his most expensive movie to date and flirts with martial arts, China’s most commercial film genre. Jia tells Variety why this is not a case of him selling out.

What is the film about?

I have been working on “Ash Is Purest White” for three years. As a very important part of Chinese culture, the Chinese word jianghu has two meanings: both dramatic life as well as dangerous underworld.

Jianghu is a world of adventure but also a world of unique emotions. I have always been interested in jianghu love stories in which characters are never afraid to love or to hate.

“Ash” sets the story between 2001 and 2018, an era when China has been experiencing drastic changes. Traditional values and lifestyles have changed dramatically. Yet jianghu folk still cling to their own code of conduct and values, functioning in their own ways. The contrast is ironic, but also attractive to me.

In the film, the central couple go through love, betrayal, separation, reunion and again separation. They never ended up in marriage [and] maintained their personal freedom in a certain way. For me, this is a film about rebels.

Popular on Variety

Aside from again casting Zhao Tao [Jia’s wife], what is the continuity with the previous feature films in your oeuvre?

When I edited “Unknown Pleasures” in 2001 and “Still Life” in 2006, both starring Zhao Tao, I cut out some of her love scenes in order to simplify the storylines. But when I recently re-watched the old unused footage, the characters in two different movies somehow became one in my imagination.

What are the elements that required (reportedly) the largest budget ever for a Jia Zhangke film?

The social environment in China has experienced great transformation during the 17 years of the story. There were no high-speed trains back then, only slow green trains. City appearances, people’s clothing and communication products all looked very different then. We invested huge amount of money in sets and production design. In my cinema language and style, I like to place people in a natural and authentic environment which leads to lots of scheduling in large and public spaces, filling the spaces with extras, and making sure all details are in line with reality back then.

We traveled 7,700 kilometers making the film, took four months to shoot, and used six different cameras and film stock to present different periods of time.

If this is your most commercial and accessible film to date, are you turning away from the indie sector?

I still define my film as indie. For me, indie film represents the spirit that a director can always insist on his unique cinema language and be faithful to his inner world and emotions. I believe that is what I did and achieved with “Ash.”

Are the conditions for indie filmmaking in China improving or worsening? On one hand is the emergence of an art-house film circuit and your new festival. On the other hand, regulators are becoming more interventionist, and money is freely flowing to commercial films.

In the past few years, I have been committing myself to improve the distribution system in China, trying to open more screening spaces for indie films, including setting up the art-house film alliance. But these efforts have not been big enough so far in a big country like China.

On the other hand, it is also very important to nurture audience interest in indie films. Although people can watch films on many platforms now, they are not exposed to much information about indie films. How to promote the films to audiences and raise their interest is absolutely critical to Chinese indie films. Chinese indie films always face different challenges. But we must persist in making them.

More Film

  • John Turturro The Batman

    'The Batman': John Turturro to Play Carmine Falcone in New Film

    John Turturro is set to join the cast of Matt Reeves and Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” starring Robert Pattinson. Reeves announced on Twitter that Turturro would be playing Carmine Falcone, the Gotham City gangster and adversary to the Caped Crusader. Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell are also on board. Tom Wilkinson had previously [...]

  • Dutch art dealer Jan Six and

    IDFA: Oeke Hoogendijk's 'My Rembrandt' Debuts Trailer Before World Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer to “My Rembrandt,” directed by Oeke Hoogendijk, which has its world premiere on Sunday in the Masters section of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film is set in the world of the art market for paintings by the Dutch Old Master. While art collectors [...]

  • Martin Scorsese'The Irishman' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Martin Scorsese Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival for 'The Irishman'

    Martin Scorsese has been selected by the Palm Springs International Film Festival as the recipient of its Sonny Bono Visionary Award for “The Irishman.” He will be presented the award at the festival’s gala on Jan. 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival runs Jan. 2-13. “Martin Scorsese has directed another masterpiece about [...]

  • 'Sunless Shadows' Review: Piercing Iranian Doc

    IDFA Film Review: 'Sunless Shadows'

    “Listen to women” has become the mantra of the MeToo age, though films that entirely follow its simple directive remain relatively few. “Starless Dreams” was one: Mehrdad Oskouei’s superb 2016 documentary engaged in aching, revealing dialogue with multiple teenage girls in a Tehran juvenile correctional facility, lending an open, sympathetic ear to their stories of [...]

  • Trusted reindeer Sven and curious snowman

    'Frozen 2' Heads for Sizzling $130 Million North American Launch

    Disney’s “Frozen 2” is heading for a hot $130 million opening weekend at 4,400 North American locations, early estimates showed Friday. That’s well above the $100 million launch that Disney was forecasting for the sequel, which will provide a much-needed jolt to the moviegoing business. The 2019 North American box office trails last year by [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Delays 'The Banker' Release Amid Review of Family Accusations

    Apple is delaying the theatrical release of “The Banker,” originally set for Dec. 6 with assistance from Bleecker Street, insiders familiar with the company said. It’s being delayed as the filmmakers review accusations of historical inaccuracy and sexual abuse at the hands of co-producer Bernard Garrett Jr. The film was also set to premiere on [...]

  • Alex Ginno Fully Formed

    Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's Fully Formed Taps Alex Ginno as Head of Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alex Ginno has joined Brad Fuller and Andrew Form’s Fully Formed as head of film. The company has a three-year first-look deal with Paramount, where they recently wrapped production on “A Quiet Place: Part II” and are currently prepping Season 3 of the hit show “Jack Ryan” for Amazon. The second season recently bowed, with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content