Cinema of Paradox: The Individual and the Crowd in Jia Zhangke’s Films

Kim, Jung Koo. 2016. Cinema of Paradox: The Individual and the Crowd in Jia Zhangke’s Films. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis attempts to understand Chinese film director Jia Zhangke with the concept of “paradox.” Challenging the existing discussions on Jia Zhangke, which have been mainly centered around an international filmmaker to represent Chinese national cinema or an auteur to construct realism in post-socialist China, I focus on how he deals with the individual and the crowd to read through his oeuvre as “paradox.” Based on film text analysis, my discussion develops in two parts: First, the emergence of the individual subject from his debut feature film Xiao Wu to The World; and second, the discovery of the crowd from Still Life to his later documentary works such as Dong and Useless.

The first part examines how the individual is differentiated from the crowd in Jia’s earlier films under the Chinese social transformation during the 1990s and 2000s. For his predecessors, the collective was central not only in so-called “leitmotif” (zhuxuanlü or propaganda) films to enhance socialist ideology, but also in Fifth Generation films as “national allegory.” However, what Jia pays attention to is “I” rather than “We.” He focuses on the individual, marginal characters, and the local rather than the collective, heroes, and the national. As Deleuze points out that “paradox is opposed to doxa” (good sense or common sense), the individual in Jia’s earlier films constructs a paradox against the collective doxa in Chinese film history.

In the second part, the paradox is considered as a way for Jia’s filmmaking to address the crowd. Since his cinematic experiments in Still Life and Dong, he has developed his cinematic problematics around fiction/documentary, reality/fantasy, and diegesis/non-diegesis by making a series of documentaries. In doing so, Jia discovers that there are people who live outside his films. Challenging traditional filmic conventions, he reflects on his own filmmaking and strives to film the people for whom he might not be able to speak. In this way, Jia questions how the film medium can represent the unrepresentable and where the filmmaker should be positioned between the camera and the subjects to be filmed.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Jia Zhangke, the Individual, the Crowd, Paradox

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 October 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

29 Nov 2016 14:36

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:43


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