No one attending the Pingyao International Film Festival can escape learning about Jia Zhangke’s upcoming projects, with the same three trailers for them playing before each and every screening. The arthouse icon-turned-businessman’s presence looms large over the festival he founded in his native Shanxi province.
First off, there is a new collaboration between Jia and Momo, a Chinese social media app that started as a Tinder knockoff and now appears to be pivoting in more wholesome directions, with moves into live-streaming and, now, film production via a new arm called Momo Pictures. The app is one of the main sponsors of the Pingyao festival.
Jia will executive produce Momo’s first foray into features, a Beijing-based production called “The Best Is Yet to Come.” A co-production between his Fabula Entertainment and Momo Pictures, it will be the first full-length work by newcomer Wang Jing, a Beijing Film Academy graduate who was Jia’s assistant director on “Ash Is Purest White,” “Mountains May Depart,” and “A Touch of Sin,” as well as Cai Shangjun’s assistant director on 2017’s “The Conformist.” The new project will star Bai Ke (“The Founding of an Army”).
An adaptation of a real-life story, it tells the tale of a high-school dropout named Han Dong, who, unhappy with his comfortable small-town life and with dreams of becoming a reporter, ignores his family’s warnings and leaves home to make a new life for himself in Beijing.
Jia will be taking a rare turn in front of the camera in a new film, “Pseudo Idealist,” directed by Cheng Er (“The Wasted Times”). Shooting is expected to begin later this year, targeting a May 2020 release date. Jia, who is married to one of China’s foremost actresses, Zhao Tao, previously appeared in “Karmic Mahjong,” and has had minor, sometimes uncredited, roles in several of his own movies. He was also the subject of the 2014 Walter Salles documentary, “A Guy From Fenyang.”
“One morning, upon waking, Descartes decided to discuss body and soul as separate entities,” Jia says in the trailer for “Pseudo Idealist,” before an interlocutor counters: “Aren’t you concerned that no one cares about Descartes?”
Another of Jia’s projects, the documentary “So Close to My Land,” is set for a 2019 release. Currently in post-production and with an expected running time of over 110 minutes, it is produced by his wife, actress Zhao Tao, and Jia’s XStream Pictures.
His last documentary was 2010’s “I Wish I Knew,” which screened in that year’s Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. It is the third and last installment in a trilogy about different artistic practices in China, following 2006’s 66-minute “Dong,” which follows a painter, and 2007’s “Useless,” which looks at the fashion industry.
The film brings prominent Chinese writers — including Yu Hua, Jia Pingwa, Liang Hong — to Jia Zhangke’s hometown, where they discuss changes in their lives, literature and Chinese society since the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago.
Founded in 2011, the Nasdaq-listed Momo says its app had a monthly active user base of more than 113 million people as of June. In March 2018, the company acquired Tantan, another swiping and location-based Tinder-style dating app.