Director: Jia Zhangke Run Time: 114 min. Release Year: 1997 Language: Chinese
Starring: Baitao Zuo, Hao Hongjian, Liu Junying, Ma Jinrei, Wang Hongwei
One of cinema’s great debuts, this film by the generation-defining Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke is a searing first expression of his signature theme: the disillusionment of people left behind by a society modernizing at whiplash speed. Shot on 16 mm with nonprofessional actors and without state approval, Xiao Wu enfolds its critique within a subtly ironic study of a cocky, aimless pickpocket (Wang Hongwei) who, as those around him advance thanks to the opportunities of the new market economy, finds himself increasingly alienated. A budding relationship with a brothel worker (Hao Hongjian) seems to offer him a sense of meaning—but is it as illusory as the promises of capitalism? Already a master of the slow-burn long takes, minimalist framing, and meaningful silences that would become his trademarks, Jia fashions a quietly shattering portrait of humanitycaught in the jaws of globalization.