Official selection in 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Un Certain Regard

Shanghai has hosted all kinds of people – revolutionaries, capitalists, politicians, soldiers, artists, and gangsters. Shanghai has also hosted revolutions, assassinations, love stories.

After the Chinese Communists’ victory in 1949, thousands of Shanghaiers left for Hong Kong and Taiwan. To leave meant being separated from home for thirty years; to stay meant suffering through the Cultural Revolution and China’s other political disasters.

Eighteen people from these three cities — Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong — recall their lives in Shanghai. Their personal experiences, like eighteen chapters of a novel, tell stories of Shanghai lives from the 1930s to 2010.

An eternally wandering soul returns to Shanghai and, walking along the banks of the Huangpu River, awakens to all the changes the city has undergone.

Jia Zhang-Ke was born in 1970 in Fenyang, Shanxi Province of China. He was graduated from Beijing Film Academy and made his first feature film Xiao Wu in 1998. He is now settled in Beijing and actively involved in filmmaking all over China. His Still Life won the Golden Lion Award (Best Film) of 63rd Venice International Film Festival in 2006.

After examining China’s historic changes through my films for over a decade, I’ve developed a growing interest in history. It has dawned on me that the causes of almost all of the problems facing contemporary China can be found taking shape in the depths of its history.

In mainland China as well as in Taiwan, the true nature of many events in China’s modern history has long been hidden, blocked from view by those in power. Like an orphan anxious to learn the truth about where he comes from, I felt an urgency to learn just what lies behind the familiar official historical narratives. What in fact have individuals really experienced?

So I came to Shanghai with my movie camera and traced the footsteps of Shanghaiers who left this city for Taiwan and Hong Kong. Shanghai is closely tied to the lives of almost every important historic figure in the modern history of China. And events of national significance in the life of the city also destined Shanghaiers for lives of painful, life-long separation.

I hope that I WISH I KNEW can transcend party politics (whether it be the Communist Party of China or Taiwan’s Nationalist KMT) and directly touch the sufferings of the Chinese people.

A complicated lexicon of historical terms is inscribed on Shanghai’s history: from «colony» in the 19th century to «revolutionary» in the 20th; from 1949’s «liberation» through the «cultural revolution» of 1966 to 1978’s «reform» and Pudong’s «opening up» in 1990.

What I care about, however, is what lies behind these abstract terms: the individuals buffeted by politics, and details of their lives forgotten by time.

When I sat face-to-face with characters in my film, and listened to them talk ever so calmly about the hair-raising events in their pasts, I suddenly realized what it was that I captured with my camera: — “a dream of freedom” twinkling in their eyes.

This moved me to tears.