Jia Zhangke is on fire now, but it is great to see his work back when he was making films in the Chinese underground, unsanctioned by the government. The actor who plays the lead in this has showed up in most of the director's films afterwards, I just saw him in STILL LIFE.
The final scene is absolute payoff. You can see how the director was heavily influenced by European new wave directors. But his content, his writing, his picture is totally his own. Only remnants of what is seen in this film can still be witnessed in China today - merely 20 years later. Watch this for an eerily candid view of China before it became the powerhouse as we know it today.
what i find extraordinary about jia zhangke's cinema is the ability to tell small, provincial stories of characters that happen to be, despite themselves, in the middle of momentous changes in the history and culture of China: the lack of identity, the sense of loss, the cultural displacement with western models and, above all, the violence, the disregard of a political system only able to exploit its own people.
My second Jia Zhangke. Similar slow style as in Still Life and a similar passive main character. Found it a bit longish, but that did not bother because there are some extraordinary beautifully shot sequences, for example the one in the karaoke bar with his love interest. Also I really missed the magical stuff from the later films (the rocketship in Still Life). This one here is a more strict neo-realism.