Still life, an ever-changing China

Two people return to their village in Fengjie to find something they’ve lost. Han Sanming searches for his long-lost wife so that he can see his son one last time. The second one to arrive is Shen Hong who is trying to contact her husband who has been giving her the cold shoulder. All this happens while the countdown is ticking for the deconstruction of the city to give way for the Three Gorges Dam.


Still Life highlights the Chinese struggle to keep up with a rapidly progressing world. The dam serves as a conduit for the Jia Zhangke to push his message. With everyone scrambling to gather their bearings, much is lost in the process. This is reflective of how China demolishes the old in order to make way for the new. This is especially true due to China’s rapid urbanization. This often ends in the detriment of its fellow citizens who have deep roots within their hometown.

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The city in ruins.

The motif in the film would be water. As the film progresses, the water level is constantly on the rise, threatening to take over all that they hold dear. In the midst of the eventual destruction of the city, a secret group that is trying to recover old artifacts before the city becomes the new atlantis. I interpreted this as Jia Zhangke’s own manifestation within the film. As the group tries to save China’s precious history, so is Jia Zhangke trying to preserve the core Chinese values.

An imagery that stuck with me was the little boy puffing away on his cigarette, without any form of parental guidance to tell him not to. The truth of the matter is that no one really cares about him. This is a way to show how even though China is progressing ever forward, the youth is left to fend for themselves. As such the tendency run astray is ever high.

A sad tale which reflects the woes of China. 7/10

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Hope you enjoyed my post!

Enjoyed my post? Leave a comment in the comment section below! (ミ ̄ー ̄ミ)


4 Replies to “Still life, an ever-changing China”

  1. Apart from the young boy puffing away on his cigarette, another scene that struck me was where Han Sanming reunites with his wife in a partially demolished building, attempting to rebuild their relationship as another building collapses in the distance. There is a somewhat warped sense of urgency in the film as we constantly see numbers indicating the rising water levels and even a building with the word 拆 (meaning “to demolish”) spray painted on it despite the film’s snail-paced progression. Life seems to go on slowly, or even come to a still, as we observe the continuous demolishing, collapsing and evacuating. It is as if change isn’t happening at all.


  2. It is interesting to note that the two leads that are featured in this film are both seeking for something that they are missing.

    I particularly enjoyed how the director highlights that struggles of the Chinese in this rapidly progressing country. The way he utilised techniques to present the narrative as one that is extremely relatable to the audience is brilliant.

    The scenes of demolition and a disappearing city making way for progress whilst its people struggle, shows this irony that the Chinese go through, where their country attempts at rapid progress that is meant to benefit its people, but in the end, its the people that suffer through the speedy progression.

    Really enjoyed the detailed review!


  3. I also noticed the use of water as a representative technique in the film! However, I interpreted it slightly differently from you. I thought that the frequent drinking of water by Shen Hong and setting of the film along the waterways surrounding the Three Gorges Dam was just an implicit tactic to draw attention to the Chinese government’s rush to urbanize and the subsequent impacts, including environmental pollution, broken human relationships and the loss of culture because of the loss of a geographic area.

    And good point about how even though China is progressing ever forward, the youth is left to fend for themselves. Hopefully the situation will change over time.


  4. Hello again. This is seriously killing me. You do know that reading all the posts is actually more intriguing than watching this “documentary”? I’m struggling for words but your post had me reflecting on what I had seen. I liked how you used water as the motif, as when I was watching I was struggling to find any motif – maybe I was too bored watching the whole film but yeah great point anyway. And yeah, the little boy puffing away at his cigarettes had me for an awhile too, I guess your interpretation of it was spot on regarding how no one cares about the lower class youths and people. Great post once again!


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