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Film Studies: “Unknown Pleasures” by Jia Zhangke Essay


The film under analysis is called Unknown Pleasures and is directed by Jia Zhangke. The movie focuses on the life of young people who do not have a purpose in life and who are searching for a better future. Being largely affected by Western culture and media, three main heroes decide to rob a bank, as it is often depicted in American movies. Further, plot development focuses on the frustration and disappointment with Western culture, as well as on their distorted attitude to reality. In the sequence under analysis, which lasts less than two minutes, the attention is paid to the dialogue between Xiao Ji, reckless teenager, and Qiao Qiao, a young dancer, and singer, that takes place in a café. Like the entire movie, the sequence is shot by means of a digital camera that has slightly changed colors to reach the tone needed for the main purposes of the movie.

While shooting the scene, specific attention has been given to shot duration. Specifically, the director decides to direct the camera at one of the heroes engaged in a dialogue. Apparently, such a technique seeks to underline the importance of some of the responses in the exchange ideas. For instance, the camera focuses on Qiao Qiao when she talks about her parents to render her attitude and perception to the viewers. As soon as another hero starts talking, the camera immediately shifts to Xiao Ji. Additionally, sometimes the camera is established on the listener rather than on an active speaker for the viewers to understand what each of the heroes feels while listening to new information. The scene does not provide the picture of both heroes together in a shot.

As per the depth of the field, all the objects in an image are sharp and, therefore, the depth of shooting is precise, which makes the short less focused. The accuracy of the short is measured by the distance at which camera is established. Because the camera shoots the objects at a relatively similar distance, there is no discrepancy in depths of field in the scene under analysis. Additionally, the director prefers using close-up to take a closer attention to the hero’s emotions and reactions, which prevents from noting the background image.

The sequence under analysis is shot from one camera angle that shifts from one actor to another. Specifically, the director chooses close shots, which gives the impression that the heroes are along in the café. One cannot see other tables with visitors; neither can they see the waiters. The abrupt shift from right to left also keeps the viewers in psychological tension. It should also be stressed, however, that there are no changes in shot distance, which enhances the tension and draws attention to the high level of emotionality of the heroes. In such a way, it is possible to see the toughness of their character, as well as their outrageous spirit. Finally, the director makes use of avant-guard approaches to make the scene even more attractive. The abruptness of camera angles, therefore, contributes to the entire idea of the film.

In addition to camera angles and shot duration, which primarily relies on the abruptness of movements and angles, the director also pays closer attention to certain objects inserted into camera shot (Zheng 50). Specifically, the viewer can understand that the heroes are having lunch in a café because they are sitting on the table with food served for them. The dialogue also centers on the issues, such as food ordering, which makes reference to the place. There is also another reference to the Chinese culture, although the heroes are more obsessed with Western traditions. This can be seen from their consumes and hairstyles, which resemble the costumes from cult American film called Pulp Fiction.

Specific attention should be given to the heroine whose hairstyle is identical to the Tarantino’s heroine Mia Wallace. More importantly, Qiao Qiao’s gestures and behavior remind of the habits and patterns that are depicted in the American movies of the later 90s. Obsessed with the American Dream, the heroes strongly believe that their life could be much better if they live in the United States. All these aspects contribute to the contradictions and difficulties, which make the character less concerned with building plans for the future.

In conclusion, the director of Unknown Pleasures makes use of various cinematic techniques to emphasize the dynamics and hero’s perception in the sequence under analysis. To begin with, the author makes frequent and abrupt shift from actor to another to keep the viewers focused on the scene, which makes the depth of the field technique less distinguished. Second, the author applies to close-ups and one camera angle to emphasize that attention should be given to two heroes only. Further, mise-en-scene conveys the main aspects of the described epoch, as well as provides references to both Chinese and American culture. At this point, the director skillfully combines all the elements to recreate the atmosphere of the time and render the main idea of the movie. The costumes and behavior of the heroes also complement the entire theme of the film.

Works Cited

Unknown Pleasures. Ex Prod. Jia Zhangke. China: New Yorker Film. 2002. DVD.

Zheng, Zhang. The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 21). Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-unknown-pleasures-by-jia-zhangke/

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"Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke." IvyPanda, 21 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-unknown-pleasures-by-jia-zhangke/.

1. IvyPanda. "Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-unknown-pleasures-by-jia-zhangke/.


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IvyPanda. "Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-unknown-pleasures-by-jia-zhangke/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-unknown-pleasures-by-jia-zhangke/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Film Studies: "Unknown Pleasures" by Jia Zhangke'. 21 May.

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