Still Life (2006 film)

name = Still Life

imdb_id = 0859765
amg_id = 1:360794
writer = Jia Zhangke
Sun Jianming
Guan Na
starring = Zhao Tao Han Sanming
director = Jia Zhangke
producer = Xu Pengle
Wang Tianyun
Zhu Jiong
distributor = International:
Xstream Pictures
United States:
New Yorker Films
released = Venice:
September 5, 2006
United States:
January 18, 2008
music = Lim Giong
cinematography = Yu Lik-wai
editing = Kong Jinglei
runtime = 108 min
language = Jin Chinese
Sichuan Mandarin
Standard Mandarin
budget = |

"Still Life" (zh-cpl|c=三峡好人|p=Sānxiá hǎorén|l=Good people of the Three Gorges) is a 2006 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. Shot in the old village of Fengjie, a small town on the Yangtze River which is slowly being destroyed by the building of the Three Gorges Dam, "Still Life" tells the story of two people in search of their spouses. "Still Life" is a co-production between the Shanghai Film Studio and Hong Kong-based Xstream Pictures.

The film premiered at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and was a surprise winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Film. [cite web|url=|title='Still Life' Takes Venice's Top Prize|publisher=Associated Press| author=AP Staff| date=2006-09-09|accessdate=2008-01-19] The film would premiere at a handful of other film festivals, and would receive a limited commercial release in the United States on January 18, 2008 in New York City.

Like "The World", Jia Zhangke's previous film, "Still Life" was accepted by Chinese authorities and was shown uncensored in both mainland China and abroad.


"Still Life" takes place in the city of Fengjie, a city upstream of the massive Three Gorges Dam. Now marked for flooding, the city undergoes a process of self-deconstruction. Into this dying town comes Han Sanming, a coal-miner from the province of Shanxi who has returned in search of a wife that ran away sixteen years ago. Upon arriving, he asks a local motorcyclist to drive him to his former address on "Granite Street." The driver takes him to the river bank, revealing that his entire neighborhood has been flooded since the building of the dam. After a failed attempt to obtain his wife's information from the local municipal office, Han Sanming settles into a local hotel. Sanming's next stop is a rickety boat owned by his wife's elder brother. The brother informs Sanming that his wife and daughter (the real reason for his return) work downriver in Yichang but that if he remains in the city, they will eventually return.

Sanming then befriends a local teen (and a fan of the actor Chow Yun-Fat), Brother Mark who helps him with a job with his demolition crew. Together the two spend their days tearing down buildings.

The film then cuts to a second story with the arrival of Shen Hong. A nurse, Shen Hong's husband, Guo Bing had left their home in Shanxi two years earlier and had made only superficial attempts to keep in contact. She eventually enlists the help of one of her husband's friends, Wang Dongming, who allows her to stay at his home as the two seek Guo Bin. The two discover that Guo Bin had become a fairly successful businessman in Fengjie though Dongming refuses to answer whether he has found a girl on the side. Shen Hong later found out her husband is indeed having an affair with his wealthy investor. When Guo Bin and Shen Hong at last meet, she simply walks away. As her husband pursues her, she reveals to him that she has fallen in love with someone else and wishes to divorce. When he asks with whom and when she had fallen in love, she responds, "Does it really matter?"

The film then cuts back to Sanming for the final third. Sanming has been working at demolishing buildings for sometime when Brother Mark is fatally injured in a collapse of a wall, or perhaps he was murdered during a "job" contracted out by Guo Bin to gather a gang of youths to intimidate the inhabitants of a rival piece of real estate. Soon afterwards, his brother-in-law calls informing him that his wife, Missy Ma has returned. Sanming and Missy then meet, where she tells him that their daughter works further south, and that she works for a boat-owner essentially as an indentured servant due to her brothers debt. Sanming attempts to take his ex-wife with him, but is informed that he will have to pay 30,000 RMB to cover the debt. He promises to do so, and makes the decision to head back to Shanxi to work in the mines. His new friends and coworkers announce that they will be following, but Sanming reminds them of the intensely dangerous nature of the work. The film ends as Sanming prepares to depart. A man walking across a tight-rope appears in the background...


* Han Sanming as Han Sanming, the actor plays a character named after himself. The film's "Han Sanming" is a coal-miner from Shanxi province who has returned to Fengjie in search of his wife and daughter, neither of whom he has seen in sixteen years.
* Zhao Tao as Shen Hong, a nurse, also from Shanxi, who has come to Fengjie in search of her husband, who has been out of touch for two years.
* Li Zhubing as Guo Bing, Shen Hong's husband.
* Wang Hongwei as Wang Dongming, an archaeologist working in the ruined lots in Fengjie and a friend of Guo Bing's who helps Shen Hong track him down.
* Ma Lizhen as Missy Ma, Han Sanming's erstwhile wife.
* Zhou Lin as Brother Mark, a young laborer who befriends Han Sanming.
* Luo Mingwang as Old Ma, Missy Ma's elder brother, and Han Sanming's brother-in-law


Filmed on location in Fengjie, "Still Life" was shot entirely on High Definition Digital Video by cinematographer Yu Lik-wai.cite web|url=|author=Dargis, Manohla| title= Still Life - Movie - Review| publisher="The New York Times" |date=2008-01-18|accessdate=2008-02-04]

Casting was primarily with Jia regulars, including the two leads Zhao Tao (who has appeared in every Jia film since 2000's "Platform") and Han Sanming (who also appeared in Jia's "The World"). Also appearing in a minor role is actor Wang Hongwei, who often acts as Jia's on-screen alter-ego ("Xiao Wu", "Platform"). The film's crew also consisted of frequent Jia collaboraters. Most notable among these were cinematographer Yu Lik-wai ("The World", "Platform", "Unknown Pleasures", "Xiao Wu"), composer Lim Giong ("Useless", "Dong", "The World") and editor Kong Jinglei ("Platform", "The World").

Unlike many of his contemporaries (and indeed unlike many of Jia's own films), "Still Life" was approved by the state Film Bureau, SARFT, and was co-produced by the state-operated Shanghai Film Studio.cite web|url=|title=China's Wasteland: Jia Zhangke's Still Life|author=Kraicer, Shelly|publisher = "Cinema Scope", volume 29|accessdate=2008-02-06] Jia himself suggested that this support was due to the fact that " [t] he impact of the Three Gorges project is phenomenal. It’s not something the government can cover up."cite web|url=|title=Blurring Reality's Edge in Fluid China|author=Lim, Dennis|publisher = "The New York Times" |date = 2008-01-20| accessdate=2008-02-04]

"Still Life" was therefore given a brief theatrical run in China (opening on the same day as the big budget "Curse of the Golden Flower") and was also heavily bootlegged.


"Still Life" premiered in the 2006 Venice Film Festival, where it managed to win the film festival's top prize, the Golden Lion award. "Variety", in an early review of the film, gave the film a mild praise.cite web|url=|title= Still Life Review|author=Elley, Derek|publisher="Variety"|date=2006-09-08 |accessdate=2008-02-04] With its win, however, the film's profile was instantly raised. Chinese press, upon seeing its success, also gave the film and its director positive coverage in the media.

By the time of its limited release in the United States in early January 2008, the film had already collected an increasing amount of acclaim. Manohla Dargis, critic for "The New York Times" for example noted that Jia's film "exists on a continuum with the modernist masters, among other influences, but [that] he is very much an artist of his own specific time and place." Other critics, like J. Holberman of "The Village Voice", also praised the film but noted the more political undertones, consciously drawing comparison to the Fifth Generation director Zhang Yimou and his more recent big-budget epics.cite web| url=,hoberman,78844,20.html | title= Drowning in Progress: Contemporary China, fluid yet unstable, in Still Life| author= Hoberman, J |publisher="The Village Voice"|date =2008-01-15|accessdate=2008-02-04] Review databases like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic recorded equally strong reviews for the film, with an 92% favorable rating (out of 25 reviews) from the former, and a 81% (out of 10 reviews) rating from the latter as of February, 2008. [cite web|url=|title=Still Life - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures|publisher = Rotten Tomatoes | accessdate=2008-02-04] [cite web|url=|title= Still Life (2008): Reviews|publisher=Metacritic|accessdate=2008-02-04]

Awards & nominations

* 2006 Venice Film Festival
** Winner of the Golden Lion
** Official Selection
* 2006 Asian Film Awards
** Winner of Best Director, Jia Zhangke
** Best Picture (nominee)
** Best Composer, Lim Giong (nominee)
* 2007 Adelaide Film Festival
** Winner of the NATUZZI International Award for Best Feature Film
* 2007 Valdivia International Film Festival
** Winner of Best International Feature Film
** Winner, Best Actor, Han Sanming
* 2007 Tromsø International Film Festival
** Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize
* 2007 Durban International Film Festival
** Winner of Best Direction


Like many of Jia's works, "Still Life" pacing is stately but slow. Unlike his earlier works, notably "Platform", Jia's camerawork in "Still Life" is constantly on the move, panning across men and vistas. Indeed, slow pans of men and landscapes marks the film's primary visual style.cite web|url=|title='Still Life': Waiting for the river to rise|date =2008-01-25|author=Walker, Susan|publisher="The Toronto Star"|accessdate=2008-02-04] Shelly Kraicer notes how the slow, lingering cameras create tableaux of both bodies ("male, copiously presented, and frequently half nude") and landscapes ("long, slow, 180-degree pans that turn vast fields of rubble, waste, and half-decayed, soon-to-be demolished buildings into epic tableaux"). This visual trope has drawn references to the Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni and many of his works about urban displacement.cite web|url=|title=Moral Landscapes: “Still Life,” “Summer Palace,” and “Cassandra’s Dream.”|author=Denby, David|publisher="The New Yorker"|date=2001-01-21|accessdate=2008-02-06] Manohla Dargis drew a connection between Jia and Antonioni in regards to the opening shot, wherein the camera pans slowly across a long boat full of passengers; she writes, "In "Still Life" [Jia] uses human bodies as moving space, to borrow Michelangelo Antonioni’s peerless phrase, but with enormous tenderness." She continued: "Antonioni’s influence on Mr. Jia is pronounced, evident in the younger filmmaker’s manipulation of real time and the ways he expresses his ideas with images rather than through dialogue and narrative." David Denby of "The New Yorker", meanwhile also made the Antonioni connection in reference to the film's story, wherein "Inanition and mere things have overwhelmed the human presence, as in one of Antonioni’s empty urban landscapes."

Visually, the film's use of High-Definition similarly creates unusually "crisp" imagery that draws attention to the beauty of both the natural environment and the decaying urban landscape.

The film has also drawn notice for its element of the surreal and fantastic. This ranges from subtle (the tight-rope walker near the end of the film), to the obvious, including two CGI
Some versions of the film translate "Candy" as "Toffee."] While some critics called this usage of titles "seemingly arbitrary," Shelly Kraicer writes of the symbolic use of the characters:

ee also

* "Dong", Jia's documentary companion piece to "Still Life", filmed approximately at the same time.


External links

* [ "Still Life"] from distributor, New Yorker Films

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title=Golden Lion winner
before="Brokeback Mountain"
after="Lust, Caution

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