Only Western critics with little understanding of Chinese culture and life call filmmaker Jia Zhengke a realist. His latest feature, Mountains May Depart (山河故人), currently showing in Hong Kong, is a snail-paced film in the name of art whose laughable and over-the-top final act falls flat on its face. The film energetically opens with a musical sequence in 1999 where the female protagonist, Jia Zhengke’s wife and perpetual cinematic eyesore, dances to Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West.” It’s obvious from the first shot that Mr. Jia’s story of a love triangle in three decades/chapters (1999, 2014 and 2025) is a slow-baked rumination of China’s inevitable modernization and Westernization that ultimately results in alienation and displacement of Chinese psychology and identity.
In the last act, set in 2025, Mr. Jia imagines an over-the-top and gun crazy future of overseas Chinese life that is both ludicrous and improbable resulting in a cringey inter-generational romance that even the actors look uncomfortable performing. By showing such a negative portrayal of Chinese disapora and the west, Mr. Jia successfully exposes his own lack of imagination and understanding of the west that ironically the bastion of western film festival people chomp up like popcorn.