Still Life (Sanxia Haoren)

Critics Consensus

Zhangke spellbindingly captures the human cost of rapid industrialization in modern China.



Total Count: 53


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,634
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Movie Info

Jia Zhang Ke's haunting minimalist drama Still Life (aka Sanxia Haoren) takes as its focal point the real-life construction of the Three Gorges Hydro Project and it accompanying massive dam over the Yangtze River in China (allegedly the largest manmade dam in the world) -- a project that required engineers to flood the surrounding territories, including the two millennia-old city of Fengjie. Jia interweaves two stories in connection with the geographical transformation of that area. In the first, Han Sanming (Han Sanming), a miner from northern China, revisits the vicinity after a 16-year absence and attempts to find his wife and his adult daughter -- trying to locate them at addresses that now exist underwater. In the second story, nurse Shen Hong (Zhao Tao) also returns to the site of Fengjie and scours the area for her husband, who has been estranged from her for two years, and who, it seems, has become consumed by the work and lifestyle of an executive. The marriage, it turns out, is irreparable. Meanwhile, as a documentary-style backdrop to these stories, the old structures of Fengjie are continually destroyed -- walls brought to crumbling heaps, towers blown to bits -- and new, makeshift structures installed as replacements. The film thus becomes a sad-eyed meditation on the nature of social change and progress, but it is one that requires the audience to extract these deeper themes and tropes on its own, via inference and deduction. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi


Tao Zhao
as Shen Hong
Han Sanming
as Han Sinming
Han Sanming
as Han Sanming
Wang Hong Wei
as Wang Dong Ming
Hong Wei Wang
as Wang Dongming
Li Zhubin
as Guo Bing
Zhou Lin
as Huang Mao
Ma Lizhen
as Missy Ma
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News & Interviews for Still Life (Sanxia Haoren)

Critic Reviews for Still Life (Sanxia Haoren)

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (20) | Fresh (49) | Rotten (4)

  • More than a million people have been displaced in central China in the cause of generating electrical power to meet the needs of the future; Jia's flowing river of a picture washes over a few of them as they adjust to life's currents in the present.

    Nov 24, 2008 | Rating: A | Full Review…
  • Jia Zhang Ke is perhaps the most distinctive director working in China now.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Simply one of the best films of last year, this year, or any year likely to come.

    Oct 3, 2008 | Full Review…
  • An extraordinary glimpse into the psychology, subtext and austere reality of modern Chinese culture.

    Sep 26, 2008 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

    Ted Fry

    Seattle Times
    Top Critic
  • Never has destruction looked more beautiful than the demolished buildings in Jia Zhang-ke's Still Life.

    May 9, 2008 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Writer-director Jia Zhangke is a keen observer of the effects of the break-neck modernization that is stampeding China toward a future that no one can predict, control, or contain.

    Apr 14, 2008

Audience Reviews for Still Life (Sanxia Haoren)

  • Nov 15, 2015
    Jia Zhangke's STILL LIFE is a prime example of the effectiveness of observational filmmaking and how the weight of the subject alone (and its themes) can not only propel but impact the drama forward. Although it seemingly presents two separate narratives following two different characters traversing a bleak but exquisitely framed developmental atmosphere (small villages directly affected by the Three Gorges Dam project that make for cinematic locations), the film unfolds with care and precision by never forcing dramatic elements and allowing the viewers to learn, feel, and decide as they go; both characters go about their way with a sense of clustered urgency as we learn the ways in which the society has impacted their personal lives, relationships, and families - we know and see just as much as we need to (a credit to a superbly tight script). This is a film that rewards the viewer once the credit rolls - allowing the punch to reveal itself gradually as the grounded, painful, and raw message sinks in. It is, in fact, a devastating realization, and likewise a great film, that is bolstered by Jia's patient approach, unintrusive cinematography and storytelling, and bold commentary on a specific aspect of his country's real-life issues.
    Sheldon C Super Reviewer
  • Dec 05, 2012
    a gorgeous minimalist meditation on the effects of the three gorges dam project on the ancient chinese civilization in the area, focusing on two keenly observed characters searching for lost relatives. quiet moving drama, the best i've seen from jia zhang ke yet
    Stella D Super Reviewer
  • Dec 22, 2008
    Sublimely beautiful film about two people searching for their estranged spouses in areas about to be flooded by China's Three Gorges Dam. Much like a narrative version of "Up the Yangtze" (although filmed two years prior), "Still Life" is a haunting elegy to dying part of China.
    Matthew L Super Reviewer
  • Feb 11, 2008
    [font=Century Gothic]"Still Life" starts with Han(Han Sanming) arriving in Fengjie as it is in the process of being prepared to be flooded to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. He is looking for the wife he has not seen in sixteen years, desperately wanting to see the daughter he has never known. But he receives news from her brother that she is currently out of town and the best thing to do is just to wait for her. In the interim, Han finds some demolition work.[/font] [font=Century Gothic][/font] [font=Century Gothic]In the meantime, Shen Hong(Zhao Tao) also arrives in town looking for her husband who she has not heard from in two years.[/font] [font=Century Gothic][/font] [font=Century Gothic]The central theme of "Still Life" is the price of progress. The bitter irony of the Three Gorges Dam is that it is likely to help other parts of the country more than the people who are being dislocated. Fengjie is definitely a fascinating setting for a movie and a good starting place for an exploration of forced mobility in Chinese society. So, while the movie handles the social criticism well, the drama is handled less successfully, as neither storyline is developed as well as they could have been.[/font]
    Walter M Super Reviewer

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