24 years ago, I was thumbing through a copy of Cahiers du Cinéma and came across an item on a low budget ($50,000 to be exact) first film called Xiao Wu by a young Chinese director named Jia Zhangke. I was intrigued, because the description of Xiao Wu seemed wholly different from the Fifth Generation films of Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, or even Tian Zhuangzhuang. The film made its way through the international film festival circuit, first appearing in Berlin, and then a year later in Nantes and Pusan and Vancouver, and then in 1999 at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I served on the jury that year and I enjoyed meeting Jia, who was officially represented by the estimable Peggy Chiao—I have a fond memory of taking a Vertigo tour, and Peggy correcting the guide’s translation of the Chinese characters outside Scottie’s apartment building. It’s nice to make friends with filmmakers, but the work of assessment is something else again. Xiao Wu was a rare experience: I’d been hearing that it was great, and it actually exceeded my expectations. The minimal but pointed narrative of a young pickpocket in Jia’s hometown of Fenyang on an aimless downward path seemed to emanate from the reality of the city itself, which becomes a living breathing entity. This is partly due to the tactility of Yu Lik-wai’s images, partly due to the immersive density of the soundtrack, and Jia’s extraordinary patience and attention to ongoing life, which he translates into cinema. Xiao Wu put me in mind of Godard’s films in the 60s and Altman’s in the 70s, an immediate response to the world in the process of evolving. Xiao Wu was restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, in close collaboration with Jia. I’m looking forward to revisiting the film myself. It was the gateway to a singular and often surprising career. The nature of Jia’s filmmaking has changed, but his commitment to documenting and dramatizing the ongoing changes in the common life of his country has remained steadfast.

- Kent Jones, NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION, 10/15/2021

XIAO WU (1997, d. Jia Zhang-ke) was restored by The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in collaboration with Jia Zhang-ke and in association with MK2. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.


Jia Zhang-ke
108 minutes
China Mandarin w/English subtitles
Year: 1997
Producer: Li Kit Ming, Jia Zhang-ke
Screenplay: Jia Zhang-ke
Assistant-Director: Gu Zheng
Director of Photography: Yu Lik Wai
Editor: Lin Xiao Ling
Art Director: Liang Jing Dong
Cast: Wang Hong wei, Hao Hong Jian, Zuo Bai Tao
Color Info: Color
Special Funding: Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation
Production Company: Hu Tong Communication, Radiant Advertising Company
Copyright: Top Clever Limited
Collection: World Cinema Project
Program: Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation