I assume this was on my must-see list because a bunch of New Yorker critics put it on their best-of-year lists paired with Still Life. Given how unimpressed I was with Still Life overall, I should’ve known better than to seek out its lesser-known companion piece. But I’m also drawn to 70-minute movies and figured it couldn’t hurt (it did; it put me to sleep).

We meet a painter at Three Gorges Dam.

Later he goes to Thailand.

Recommended listening: Psalm 69 by Ministry.


Supposedly “Dong” means “East” in Mandarin – not to be confised with Tsai Ming-liang’s Dong, which means “The Hole” in Taiwanese.

Ian Johnston for Bright Lights:

A week after starting on Dong, Jia decided to make Still Life, from then on shooting the two films in parallel. In fact, the films share some of the same footage, including nonprofessional actor Han Sanming. Han’s appearance in both films playing a demolition worker alongside real workers raises some interesting questions about the “documentary” nature of Dong. It seems to share here the aesthetics of Jia’s fiction filmmaking, where questions of form – the composition of the image, the placement and movement or lack of movement of the camera, shot length – have as important a role as a film’s content, and the way that content reflects a social reality. This slippage between documentary and artifice in Dong is interesting, but the film itself is a minor work of limited appeal. One of its problems is that although Jia feels a generational and artistic affinity with Liu, Liu’s painting style – the focus of Dong – is of the most banal representational realism, far away from the challenges of Jia’s aesthetics. Moreover, the second half of Dong is very weak, with the scenes in Bangkok, in striking contrast to those in Fengjie, appearing touristic and inauthentic.

Scott Tobias: “In every case, the backdrops of Jia’s films are extraordinary: Momentous, politically engaged, and strongly attuned to the consequences of progress on a macro scale. And in every case, he also seems oddly incapable of doing anything interesting in the foreground.”

I can’t remember according to who was this the greatest film of 2006 (or ’07 or ’08, depending when they saw it) but I was predictably underwhelmed. Having seen The World and Unknown Pleasures, I kept my whelm-expectations low, so I was only mildly underwhelmed, but still…

A nice, straightforward story… woman is searching for her husband who went missing two years ago to obtain a divorce. We’re on the Yangtze (flood levels are lower than in the documentary since this one was shot sooner) but this movie has less of a tourist feel, sticks with the characters instead of reveling in landscapes. Don’t know which approach I preferred.

Quiet movie, medium-paced with lots of breathing room. Unexceptionally serious-artfilmesque for long stretches. But then there’s the aliens. One scene with a darting UFO in the sky, one awesome bit where a statue becomes a rocket and blasts off, and the final shot: the woman leaving town, looking back at a man walking a tightrope between two buildings unexplained. I am all for more weirdness in movies, but the weirdness here seemed to be wedged in where it didn’t belong.

According to IMDB, all the actors in this were in all the director’s other films (two of which I’ve seen, but I barely remember the films let alone the actors).

I hope I figure out what everyone is on about, watch this again sometime with a new appreciation for its rich subtexts and symbolism and emotional impact, and come back to revise this post, embarrassed that I once called such a masterpiece underwhelming and unexceptional. I surely enjoyed it more than The World (and 4-5 times more than Unknown Pleasures) so I’m getting closer anyway.

Set near the Three Gorges dam in east-central China (as previously seen in Manufactured Landscapes). Girl from dirt-poor family and relatively privileged boy hire on to a tourist cruise line. With better knowledge of English, he gets to interact with the customers, while she’s tucked away washing dishes (but in the end, she gets to keep working to support her family, and he is fired for being an overconfident kiss-up). Meanwhile, her family watches their shack and farmland slowly sink as the river rises, finally having to relocate into an apartment on higher ground.

Liked it a bunch, glad I got to see at the High instead of on video. Opens and closes with dramatic dam shots, some real good landscape stuff throughout.