"Like his last film, 2008's 24 City, Jia Zhangke's Un Certain Regard title I Wish I Knew is a documentary/fiction hybrid about modern-day China," begins Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "Where 24 City took a personal focus on the citizens of a Chinese town affected by the construction of a high-rise condominium, I Wish I Knew takes a broader view, examining the history of Shanghai as viewed from the present.... The film is never less than gorgeous, and there's often an intuitive and pleasing internal rhythm to how he cuts within and between shots. It's also a bit inscrutable, never quite locking down an easy theme or single organizational strategy."
"The film suffers from information deficiency, so while Chinese can relate to most of their conversations yet find the content familiar, overseas audiences are adrift in a sea of non-chronological memories," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Jia's regular cinematographer Yu Lik Wai's mellow, impressionist images of old and new quarters of Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong create a tone poem effect that is becoming routine in Jia's oeuvre. Jia's screen muse, Zhao Tao, gets the most gratuitous role in her career, roaming the city's landmarks and neglected slums with a troubled expression."
"As far as I could tell," writes Mike D'Angelo at the AV Club, "there are no fake interviews (as there were in 24 City), but this collection of just-folks seemed to me much less compelling than Jia's last; the most interesting recollections come from film-industry figures like director Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Flowers of Shanghai) and actress Wei Wei (the 1948 classic Spring in a Small Town), in part because this allows Jia to compare footage of Shanghai past to his own depiction of Shanghai present. Still, I couldn't for the life of me work out Jia's organizing principle, if any, and a graph of my interest level throughout the film's 138 minutes would look mighty familiar to any seismologist."
"He's not operating at the height of his skill here, but I'll take him even at reduced strength," blogs Wesley Morris for the Boston Globe. "The robust applause for him at the end of the film was touching. He has a boyishness that makes it easy to imagine the people in his nonfiction spilling themselves to him so easily."
The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth gives the film a D; grades average much higher at Letras de Cine, but there are dissenters.
Phillip Maher interviews Jia for the Allmovie Blog.
Update: "[D]espite some fascinating sequences," blogs the Voice's J Hoberman, the film "seems suspiciously like an infomercial for the upcoming Shanghai World's Fair."
Update, 5/19: A moment from Allan Hunter's review for Screen: "Zuo Qiansheng recalls working as an assistant to Michelangelo Antonioni during his time in Shanghai in the early 1970s and the punishment he suffered for his inability to steer the Italian auteur towards an officially sanctioned view of what he should be shooting."
Page at Cannes (Un Certain Regard). Cannes 2010: Coverage of the coverage index.