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Type: Thesis
Title: The Surreal Realist Cinema of Jia Zhangke
Author: Moran, Thomas Francis
Issue Date: 2018
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English and Creative Writing
Abstract: Through a close investigation of three recent films by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (1970- ), namely The World (2004), Still Life (2006) and A Touch of Sin (2013), the thesis argues that a new form of cinema that can be described as ‘surreal realism’ has emerged in the director’s attempt to capture the ultra-rapid transformations (zhuanxing) taking place in post-socialist China, specifically in the 21st century. Jia’s films historicise the present by visualising the varying modes of circulation in contemporary China, including the movement of bodies, the abstract circulation of value and the movements of desire. I suggest that Jia’s historicisation of the present not only captures historical transformation but also uses such transformation as an impetus for cinematic invention. I further argue that the success of his work, including its international reception, is due to this commitment to the formal evolution of the medium of cinema. That in turn is premised on an engagement with a wide variety of other aesthetic forms that impacts upon the way Jia’s films are conceived, shot and structured, most significantly architecture, painting and the internet. This process of incorporation involves working against these other mediums while simultaneously drawing on them to generate a new cinematic method. The result is what I call a surreal realism that is able to reveal the present as a complex interaction of historically laden political and aesthetic forces. The first chapter is a case study of The World which focuses on its relationship to architecture, showing how the film engages with the tourist architecture of the theme park and the metropolis and how this architecture is navigated by those working inside of it. The second chapter, a case study of Still Life, draws out the film’s engagement with painting, arguing that the film investigates the legacy of Socialist Realist painting as an earlier means of historicising the present, tapping into those paintings’ utopian promise of an unrealised future. The third and final case study explores A Touch of Sin in relation to the internet and the social network news feed, showing how the film interrogates the circulation of narratives of violence online, linking this violence to economic circulation more generally to create a revised conception of the violence of history. Jia’s work has often been understood through a narrowly sociological paradigm, in which his films are used as a means of making statements about social transformation in China. These approaches rarely engage in a sustained investigation of the formal characteristics of Jia’s work, focusing chiefly on their subject matter. While not denying the sociological implications of Jia’s work, I seek to develop an alternative approach to the relationship between aesthetics and politics and to deepen the understanding of Jia’s films as works of art. I contextualise Jia’s work in relation to world cinema and position him within a wider network of directors and cinematic methods, arguing for his significance at the forefront of the evolution of cinema today.
Advisor: Jose, Nicholas
Roberts, Claire
Dissertation Note: Thesis (MPhil.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2018
Keywords: Cinema
Jia Zhangke
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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