114 minutes

"I Wish I Know" is an old Dick Haymes tune of the 1940s, used by Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke as a Proustian madeleine crystallising the essence of the latest in his series of documentaries about the inevitable course of history, here seen through the eyes of 18 Shanghainese from many different areas, including a number of colleagues such as Wang Toon and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Following on from Still Life and 24 City, Mr. Jia very gently introduces a few fictional overlays (performed by regular collaborators Zhao Tao and Lim Giong) in-between the recollections of earlier (but not necessarily better) days in the 20th century where Shanghai seemed to be at the heart of Chinese political, social and cultural upheavals, and he does so by resolutely showing us as little as possible of that "old Shanghai", as well as of the "new Shanghai" rising in its stead. Instead, Mr. Jia prefers to construct a "Shanghai of the mind", more important for what remains in the memories of those who have lived in the city than for that actually remained physically on the streets and squares.

     Ravishingly photographed by the director's usual DP, Yu Likwai, in warm, enveloping tones, I Wish I Knew is not without its faults, the greatest of which its relatively open-ended structure; while the film glows more as a river of souvenirs than as a conventionally built narrative, the lack of closure at the end suggests this particular version could be one of many possible permutations. Not that there is anything wrong with that; just that it makes for a somewhat less focused, more diffuse film than is usual with Mr. Jia, despite being otherwise an engaging and often moving piece.

With Zhao Tao, Lim Giong.
     Directed and written by Jia Zhang-ke; produced by Wang Tianyun, Yu Likwai, Meg Jin, Lin Ye, Xiong Yong; music by Mr. Lim; director of photography (colour, processing by Shanghai Film Technology Plant), Mr. Yu; art director, Zhang Xiaobing; wardrobe stylist, Liu Qiang; film editor, Zhang Jia. 
     A Shanghai Film Group Corporation/Xstream Pictures/NCU Group/Star Art Vision/Bojie Media presentation/production, in association with the Bureau of the Shanghai World Expo Coordination, supported by China Film Co-Production Corporation. (Chinese distributor, Shanghai East Film Distribution Company. World sales, MK2.)
     Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon, November 12th 2011. 

I Wish I Knew (Trailer) from filmswelike on Vimeo.


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