Mr. Jia Zhangke is one of the most outstanding film directors of 21st century China. He has been highly praised worldwide for his masterpieces, many of which are set in provincial cities like those in his native Shanxi Province. These films depict ordinary people who chart their individual course, not without suffering, through the social tensions caused by rapid economic progress, and especially give a realistic and vivid picture of both the hopes and claustrophobic frustrations of the young generation.
Mr. Jia was born in Fenyang, Shanxi Province, in 1970. At high school his artistic inclinations found expression in novel-writing and oil-painting, but the impact of seeing Chen Kaige's 1984 film Yellow Earth turned his heart towards becoming a film director. Admitted to study at the Beijing Film Academy in 1993, he distinguished himself even as a student. He directed Xiao Wu [Pickpocket] in 1997 as his graduation project, about a young man in Fenyang who makes a living as a pickpocket. Despite being the work of a mere student, this was selected for the International Forum of New Cinema of the Berlin International Film Festival, and won a double success with the Wolfgang Staudte Prize and the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award.
In his second film, Platform (2000), set in the 1980s after the end of the Cultural Revolution, he showed the coming-of-age experiences of four young men and women who belonged to a travelling theatre company. The film was selected for the main international competition of the Venice International Film Festival, and won the top award of the Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, the Golden Montgolfiere prize. This film marked the beginning of Mr. Jia's collaboration with the Office Kitano in Japan, and his creative activity began to develop within an international network.
In Unknown Pleasures (2002), he presented an unemployed man who plans to rob a bank, utterly indifferent to the bubbling excitement around him at the prospect of hosting the 2000 Olympics, and in The World (2004), he focused on men and women working at a theme park in suburban Beijing, and their anxieties about the future. The former was nominated for the competition section at the Cannes International Film Festival, and the latter, at the Venice International Film Festival. In 2006, Still Life won the top award at the Venice International Film Festival, the prestigious Golden Lion, for Best Film, and consolidated his reputation decisively. This film depicts the way that ordinary people's lives are tossed about at the mercy of fate, focusing on the personal stories of a man and a woman, each of whom comes to the old town of Fengjie as it is being submerged by the Three Gorges Dam, with some surrealistic scenes and a touch of science fiction inserted.
Many of Mr. Jia's films are set in provincial cities such as his own birth place of Shanxi Province, and vividly depict people who find intelligent ways to navigate a rapidly changing society, sometimes by making free use of challenging visual narrative techniques. This distinctive combination of location, subject-matter and technique achieved further refinement in his more recent work, including A Touch of Sin (2013), based on a real crime, and Mountains May Depart (2015), which combines three episodes from the past, the present and the future, and juxtaposes the life of a mother and a child with the relationship between China, as it globalizes, and the rest of the world. Mr. Jia has also hosted an international film festival in Pingyao, Shanxi Province, since 2017, and thus provides young film directors with the opportunities to present their work, making a big contribution to foster the next generation.
Mr. Jia Zhangke has thus earned high praise not only in China but also throughout the world for his brilliant films, and for the richly textured depiction they provide of people who have been tossed about by the waves of a turbulent era, but who at the same time are determined to chart their own individual course through the tempest. For this enormous contribution, he is truly worthy of the Grand Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.