Still Life

Still Life, (“san xia hao ren” the good people at the three gorges)

directed by Jia Zhangke, 2006, China

Han Sanming

A coal miner and native of Fen Yang, Shaanxi Province; travels to Feng Jie along Yangtzu River, a town marked for demolition and soon to be inandated because of the three gorges dam project, a town where 18 years ago he bought a wife with 3,000 yuan RMB; the woman, Yao Mei (Missy), gave birth to a child but ran away from him with the child 16 years ago; in spite of these years that have passed since his wife left him, he decides to find his wife and daughter and to be joined with them; agrees to pay 30,000 RMB in a year to a boatman to whom her brother had sold her, so as to bring his wife and daughter back



Missy Ma or “Yao Mei” (terms of address for youngest daughter)

A native of Feng Jie, a town so poor that it is customary to sell women as brides; sold to Sanming two decades ago but felt miserable after giving birth to a daughter; decided to return back to her hometown with her daughter; for little over 16 years, he is finally found by Sanming while working for a boatman to who, her brother owed money; even more unhappy with her situation with the boatman and now willing to go back to Sanming’s home; when finally brought together after so long, sha and Sanming seek to release her from her bondage and go find their daughter working in the south.

Shen Hong

a registered nurse and also a Shanxi native; embarks on a journey to Feng Jie that is similar to Sanming’s in that she wants to find her husband whom she has not seen for 2 years. As she progresses through her search she realizes the need to find him has become less and less because all evidence points to his utter indifference of her: he turns off his cellphone so that he cannot be reached, and is said to have a mistress; finds friendhship and assistance with in her husband’s long time friend only to be told that he knows nothing of his current whereabouts. When finally confronting him after years of desertion, all her doubts are confirmed and, to cover her sadness, she tells him that she has come for a divorce to set both of them free


still3 Guo Bin Bin

husband of Shen Hong; his work transferred him away from his wife Shen Hong, allowing him to acquire a mistress as well as a life completely seperate from his wife in general; fails to remain in contact with her for two years, leading Shen Hong to describe him as someone who only cares that she continues to breath and nothing more. While to others such as Shen Hong, Yao Mei (Missy Ma) and Han Sanming, displacement through work or necessity is a pain to be avoided at all costs, to Guo, it is an opportunity to start a new life; totally numb and callous toward a past just like the dam project because of which so much of what people held dear is to be demolished, inundated and forgotten

Old Ma

Missy’s older brother; knows of Missy’s current whereabouts but is unwilling to relay them to Sanming; in the beginning he is against Sanming’s quest to find Missy and his daughter in every possible way, he will not even let Sanming know about his daughter’s whereabouts. However, later in the film he appears to be a bit more civil towards Sanming.


still5 Wang Dongming

Guo Bin’s (Sheng Hong’s husband) long-time friend and local archeologist who is heard saying (about Feng Jie and the dam project), “destroyed in two weeks what has lasted for over two thousand years;” becomes Shen Hong’s friend and tourguide while she remains in Feng Jie until it becomes quite clear that his friend Guo Bin has been cheating on her for quite some time.

Brother Mark (Xiao Ma)

A local of Feng Jie, feisty youth, street smart, and one of Guo Bin’s lackeys who beat up and terrorize those in the way of his dealings; enjoys watching movies, especially those action movies in which Hong Kong star Yunfa Zhou appears; imitates him and pretends to be cool; dies when his gangster activities catch up with him and when he is beaten to death and buried under a pile of bricks


still12 Mr. He

a local cadre of Feng Jie, in charge of people’s relocation to facilitate the dam project; his power and authority as the local leader and CCP functionary slip away rather rapidly with more and more people moving away from the area; makes a small profit from being the owner of a make-shift hotel named Tang Ren Ke Zhan (Tang Dynasty Hotel), away from which he is eventually forced to move, distraught that his old residence is marked for destruction by the dam project

the Motorcyclist

A local of the Three Gorges dam area, who also lost his home along with countless others; makes his money as a motorbike taxi driver; takes Sanming to the area where he wants to go, failing to inform him that the entire area in question has already been deserted for the dam project. After swindling him out of a few yuan, he tries to help him by taking Sanming to the missing persons (relocation) bureau to look for Missy; also works a deal with Mr. He to find tennants for his hotel, getting kick-back money for each and every person he brings

still2 the Master

ringleader of a gang who swindles money out of boat passengers. His costume and tricks are entertaining until his men corner their victims and take whatever money and valuables they can


Missy’s Friend

She and her husband were also forced out of their home in the Three Gorges. As Missy’s short time companion, she knew not of Missy’s new location. But was able to show Sanming a picture of his daughter since her and Missy’s daughter went to school together. She is very hardened from losing her home, and appears not to show much emotion concerning losing her home and having to find a new one




A 16 year old native of Feng Jie, looking for a new home and job as a house maid; appears to be without home or family, or money to support herself; encounters strangers, such as Shen Hong, and asks them if there hometowns are rich enough to hire maid service. She is one of many individuals whose homes and lives in general have been destroyed by the new dam project

Ding Ya-Ling

Not much is known about this woman except for that she is Guo Bin’s mistress and head of what is known as the local building company; originally from Xia Men, Fu Jian Province, in southern China



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