Monday, June 18, 2018


There are films, and very few of them, that take you through an expanse of not only space but time and history, of people's unchanging desires, frustrations, hopes and disillusionments across changing eras, where hair styles change, the choice of music changes, the furniture changes, roads are dug up and relaid and re-dug up, and older businesses go obsolete while newer replace them. Through this never-ending cycle, people evolve but also remain the same at their core, and so does a society, so does a nation. Jia Zhangke's film Zhantai (in'tl title: Platform) matches in scope and surpasses in subtlety Zhang Yimou's To Live when it comes to a study of modern China's history. At the same time, it is a study of youth, a study that persists into their middle-aged years, unlike Hsiao-hsien's The Boys from Fengkuei. And hence, it is a more remarkable film, difficult to make, indicating Zhangke's complete mastery over his subject matter: China and the Chinese. By extension, people.

The beauty of Zhangke's film is in its details, in its precise portrayal of life in northern China. An exquisite camerawork and brilliant, placid camera angles enhance the effect to leave lasting impressions on the viewer, especially on someone who has known China. A still position for the camera, as action happens in its purview, brings a detached style to the film, and yet long shots intersperse to give it the effect of a canvas, not mere documentary. Without it being explicit, to an observant viewer, it is evident that material comforts increase as the linear narrative goes forward, and yet people seem trapped in their suppressed hopes, worn-out habits, and nothing and nowhere to look forward to. For those who have chosen to be on the move in the wide open world, they have had to sacrifice their homes; and for those who have chosen to remain, hopes are pinned on others. Disappointment and adjustment to complacent contentment are often the lot of both. While circumstances shape people's lives, Zhangke achieves the difficult feat of not focussing blame on some ideology or some historical incident in particular: such a story could have happened in any land, regardless of its political system and ideology, whenever youth drift and don't have always much to look forward to.

A special word for actor Jing Dong Liang, who plays the role of dandy-ish Chang Jun exceptionally well.