Director Jia shows of change of pace at Cannes

5:06 PM PST 05/18/2008 by Reuters, AP

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PARIS -- Award-winning director Jia Zhangke took his vision of the upheavals of modern China to the Cannes film festival on Saturday with a study of a state-owned factory shut down to make way for a luxury apartment complex.

Jia's film "24 City" mixes documentary and fiction to tell the story through the eyes of eight characters -- factory workers, executives and yuppies from the new middle class -- who watch as "Factory 420" disappears and is replaced by the luxury "24 City" apartment complex.

Set in the city of Chengdu, in the southwestern province of Sichuan that was devastated by this month's earthquake, the film reflects the breakneck pace of change that has transformed China from a dormant agricultural giant to an economic superpower.

Jia had already explored some of the themes in "Still Life", his feature centering on the building of the gigantic Three Valleys Dam that won the main prize at the 2006 Venice film festival.

"The biggest change has been the move from a planned economy to a market economy and this has had a tremendous impact on the individual," Jia told a news conference after the screening.

"I really wanted to make a film where I would show everyday life and its impact on people," he said.

The film tracks three generations of characters, some surfing the tide and others struggling to adapt as old securities are swept away and a new world emerges offering more prosperity for some but dislocation and uncertainty for others.

Beginning with interviews with workers who had been affected by the developments shown in the film, Jia eventually decided to mix documentary with fictionalized portrayals.

"I think the best way of talking about history is to mix fiction and reality, the imaginary and reality," he said.

He said he settled on the story of the Chengdu factory, which manufactured secret military technology, after several years of considering locations across China.

"It was 50 years old and there are thousands and thousands of people who worked there. It involved whole families and had a major impact on their lives," he said.

The planned disappearance of the site to give way to the residential complex seemed to sum up many of the changes that China has been going through, he said.

"I realized that I wanted to depict this period when there was a planned economy because otherwise it was going to disappear and be destroyed," he said.

"The factory was going to be destroyed to put up all these luxury apartments and for me that change was highly symbolic of the speed with which change has been occurring in China."
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