Jia Zhangke produces surreal 'Mr. Tree'

Updated: 2011-06-17 09:07
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Jia Zhangke produces surreal 'Mr. Tree'

Actor Wang Baoqiang plays the title character in Han Jie's film "Mr. Tree." [Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]

Chinese director Jia Zhangke has made his mark in international cinema with films like "Still Life" and "24 City" which contain shades of real life. Now he is giving a hand to new directors who are following his style.

Jia has produced "Mr. Tree," a film that explores commoners' lives in economically booming China.

The film is directed and written by Han Jie, who was Jia's assistant on "Still Life".

"I was attracted to the story of 'Mr. Tree' because it was the first play I had read that reflected reality in a humorous surrealistic manner," Jia said Monday (June 13, 2011) at the Shanghai International Film Festival where "Mr. Tree" is competing for the top Golden Goblet award.

The film centers on a young man named Shu, or Tree, who repairs cars in his remote hometown which is about to be relocated due to an expanding coal mine. The humble man loses his job, finds a new one in the provincial capital and marries a hearing and speech impaired woman. He wanders around, yearning for dignity. But dignity only exists in his daydreams.

Han said life itself was what inspired him to write the story.

"China's urbanization has seen a huge number of young people flock to big cities, leaving children and aging parents in their rural hometowns," he said. "We often read news about the migrant population and their uncertainties. I have been to many abandoned villages and seen that contrary to collapsed houses, trees still flourished. So Tree as the name of my protagonist has more symbolic meanings."

While Han was working on the play last year, a homeless man named Cheng Guorong became an overnight celebrity on the internet after he became the subject of a random photographer who put photos of him online. The photos immediately attracted many comments saying that Cheng's ragged clothes and untrimmed hair were a type of fashion. After an enthusiastic investigation of the man's identity, netizens found that Cheng was wandering around Ningbo, a major city in the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone, after being away from his hometown for a decade. He had left his family and suffered from psychological problems.

Han said Cheng's story came as a shock to him and prompted him to ask himself how people would adapt to being relocated.

"Big cities don't guarantee a better life for everyone," he said.

For the protagonist, Tree, the director has cast actor Wang Baoqiang, who was a migrant worker himself as a teenager after he left his village in Hebei Province to become an actor in Beijing. He worked as a construction worker and a stunt double before securing a career breakthrough with Feng Xiaogang's 2004 film "A World without Thieves." Now the 27-year-old who has received no professional acting training has become a popular actor in China.

Jia said Mr. Tree "finds his dignity in the end, although in a surreal way. Real-life society is changing so fast, it can be very surreal. You can look at Baoqiang."

Perhaps in real life, you can make miracles happen if you always have hope. Baoqiang's story is a good example.