Further confirmation of China's Jia Zhangke as the planet's most excitingly original filmmaker, this latest message-in-a-bottle from the front lines of the world's most rapidly transforming economy uses a series of first-person testimonials to relate the history of a state-owned aerospace factory about to be razed and relocated to make way for a modern high-rise apartment complex. The factory is real, as are many of the workers who pass in front of Jia's camera. There they freely—and seamlessly—intermingle with professional actors, including Jia's radiant muse, Zhao Tao, as a professional personal shopper whose parents worked for the factory, and Joan Chen as an employee whose colleagues tell her she looks like (who else?) Joan Chen. Where Jia's early films were sharply critical of China's headlong rush into the 21st century and the collateral damage it was leaving in its wake, in the recent Still Life and again here he seems more circumspect, culminating in an inimitably ironic moment when Zhao states her certainty that she will continue to prosper in the new free(r) China. Why? "Because," she says as though it were patently obvious, "I am a daughter of workers."
Chen confronts a changing China.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., May 8–Thurs., May 14. Not rated. 112 minutes.