Jia Zhiang-keâ€™s style, temperament, and circumstances uniquely suit him to chronicle his subject: turn-of-the-century China. His early films focused on youth, dislocated between the reality of, the backwater areas where they live, and the beckoning promise of an urbanized â€œmodernityâ€ of their dreams. More recently, he set The World among young workers in an urban theme park consisting of of scaled-down versions of international landmarks like the Eiffel Tower : faux cosmopolitanism as a part daily life. If Godard famously examined the children of Marx and Coca Cola, Jiaâ€™s subjects are offspring of Mao and Microsoft.
His newest, 24 City, is framedâ€”at least for a whileâ€”as a documentary reporting the transformation of a Cold-War-vintage urban weapons factoryâ€”on what has become prime real estateâ€”into â€œ24 City,â€ a five-star residential and resort complex. The movie seems to telegraph Its formula in early sequences that interview some of the the factoryâ€™s first workers: earnest, idealistic, stoic, and hard-working, in contrast to later subjects who seem cheerfully crass and unapologetically materialistic. But Jia is as much trickster as chronicler, and deftly mixes faux and â€œrealâ€ footage to subvert that facile formula.
The factory opened in the late 1950s, and an early interviewee, a self-assured efficient-seeming technocrat, recounts a working life of commitment and diligence, patriotically serving nation and factory. As hard as he works, though, he describes himself as a piker next to his early mentor, who worked harder and used equipment more resourcefully, ingeniously finding ways to use worn tools lesser workers would long ago have discarded as beyond useability. The mentor himself then appears to confirm this, smiling a bit diffidently as he recounts never missing a day of work– holidays and Sundays includedâ€”and working occasional nights as well. And he confirms, and even embellishes the accounts of re-using worn equipment until it brings to mind the story in The Searchers: ordinary man rides a horse until itâ€™s dead; a Comanche gets on that horse, rides it for 20 miles, then eats it.