© 2010 Shanghai Film Group Corporation

I Wish I Knew (2010)

Director: Jia Zhang-ke
Year: 2010

Today was the first day of Tokyo Filmex, a film festival that was started 10 years ago by Takeshi Kitano. It is much artier than the Tokyo International Film Festival, and focuses mostly edgy Asian filmmakers. Almost every film in the festival was something I had never heard of. I did not have much time to look into the films on the schedule to decide what to see, so I decided just to see what I could when I had free time, as I would probably never have a chance to see any of these films again.

I Wish I Knew is a fairly interesting portrait of Shanghai, piece together from interviews with 18 residents of the city. The most interesting moments are the recollections of people who are the children of movers and shakers of Shanghai in the 1930s and ‘40s, including the daughter of a crime lord, the son of a politician who was assassinated outside his home with his son by his side, and the daughter of a political dissident who was the victim of a famous political execution. A fascinating story comes from a Chinese film producer who work as a production assistant for Michelangelo Antonioni when he filmed a documentary of the city in the early ‘70s. The Chinese producer protested when he felt that the Italian was only filming things that made the Chinese look “backward,” but was overruled, and later was never able to see the film because it was suppressed by the government. Another story comes from a woman who was diligently working as a textile weaver in a factory when she happened to meet Chairman Mao, who put her in a series of propaganda films in which she portrayed herself. The more contemporary interviews are much less interesting, especially one with a young fiction writer who admits he only publishes books so he can buy racing cars.

The idea of painting a portrait of the city through interviews is an interesting idea, but there were a few things about this film that were hard to swallow. In between the interviews there are shots of the waterways and bridge of the city edited in a disjointed way, which is fine, but there are also long shots of an Actress slowly walking around the urban landscape wanly staring into the distance and never arriving anywhere, which seemed like an awkward attempt to put a pretty woman in the film for no good reason. Also, each interview was filmed with at least two cameras, one rooted to a tripod in the conventional manner, and one floating around on the other end of the room, or outside windows, or in hallways, and the cutting back and forth between the two cameras got annoying fast. I am not sure what the original Chinese title of the film is, but the Japanese title translates into English as “Shanghai Story,” which makes perfect sense. “I wish I knew” is not spoken by anyone in the film, however, and the English title makes no sense.

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“Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.”
-Dudley (Cary Grant)
from The Bishop’s Wife