Course:ASIA321/2022/Jiang Wen

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Jiang Wen at the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)


Jiang Wen (Chinese: 姜文) is a famous actor and director in acting and film industry across mainland China. He started his career in The last Empress, his role of “Puyi” amazingly show how cynicism an emperor was that led to the end of Qing dynasty. He won lots of awards domestically as being acknowledged for his contribution in television series and films fields. On this wiki page, we will introduce the life story of Jiang Wen, discover his professional achievements through his acting and self-directed movies, as well as touch upon his position in relation with Chinese cultural representation. We analyze how director Jiang Wen's style reflects his past experiences and the impact of social changes in China, such as the Cultural Revolution. At the end, we discussed the debates over Jiang Wen's politics and styles in his films.

The wiki page focuses on how well-known critics and experts comment on Jiang Wen’s accomplishments. We aim for providing academic information for people who show interests in Jiang Wen’s professional development and celebrity influences.


One scene in the film Gone with the Bullet (2014)

Jiang Wen is a famous Chinese actor and director with international acclaim for his absurd theatre artistic style and critical review of film and history. He was born in Tangshan, on January fifth, 1963, with a military personnel family background. His works always relate to manliness, women, and his generation's era. After several years of experience in the theater playing and graduating from The Central Academy Of Drama,  he finally got his debut role in the film The Last Empress, where he portrayed Puyi.[1]

His first award as an actor was the best actor award at the Hundred Flowers Awards for acting an intellectual with unfair treatment during the Great Cultural Revolution in the film Hibiscus Town (1986). Another representative and popular film he attends is Red Sorghum (1988). Jiang's talent in filmmaking was revealed in this film. He had disputed with the director Zhang Yimou about the character's features and issues about the role making, which has been claimed as one of the factors that helped this film's success. His passion for film expression began even earlier and never stopped, which caused conflicts and quarrels between him and the directors he later worked with. Although there were some debate and controversy between him and other filmmakers, most of them still support and approve of Jiang's talent in film directing, which has encouraged his maiden work, In the Heat of the Sun (1994). With the great success of this film, Jiang's confidence and ambition became much bolder. In his second film, Devils on the Doorstep (2000), he daringly described about a much more sensitive history event, the Anti-Japanese war, ironically in a black comedy film, which directly caused him to be banned from making films for five years although this film was praised internationally.

In 2007, Jiang Wen finally came back with his third feature, The Sun also Rises. Although it was praiseful by other peers and critics, the box office was bleak. Therefore, some negative opinions debut his ability and his success, although he thinks this film was a gift from god. These queries have become the motivation for his fourth work, Let the Bullets Fly (2010). Jiang has claimed this film was his gift to the audiences, which can be implied by his change from personal expression to audiences empathy[2]. This means Jiang Wen’s movies present the emotional reactions that people will have since he took into account how to combine his perspective of the social and historical events or his story with people's preferences. This film was a huge success both at the box office and in awards. However, although the next two films in 2014 and 2018 he directed still had a preferable performance at the box office, the reviews have been mixed. At the same time, the other films he attended as an actor also received criticism about the film's quality.

Life Roles

Jiang Wen's photo in childhood
Jiang Wen's photo in childhood


Jiang wen, born Jiang Xiaojun (Chinese: 姜小军). He was born in 1963 and lived with his grandparents in Tangshan during his childhood. After ten years, he went to Beijing to study and live with his parents. As his father was a soldier who fought against the United States and helped Korea, and his mother was a music teacher, the unique environment of the army and his mother's artistic enlightenment had a significant influence on Jiang Wen. It enriched his social experience, which has been presented in his acting and films in varieties ways.


In Jiangwen's study career, Yingda was one of his most influential friends that not only inspired his interest in theatrical performances and film but also encouraged him to apply for the Central Academy of Drama after being refused by the Beijing Film Academy. The study and acting experience at university accumulated the foundation for his later mature performance in his first movie.

One scene in the film Hibiscus Town (1987)


After Xie jing watched his theater performance, he invited Jiangwen to attend the film Hibiscus Town (1986) as the protagonist, which enabled him to meet his first partner, Liu Xiaoqing, during the production of this debut film. A 23-year-old student fell in love with a 31-year-old famous actress during the process of filming, which was one of the most resounding gossips during that era. Although the director, Xie jin, and the other crew were affirmative of their relationship and finally affirmed and verified this relationship after many years, their relationship was still controversial and not supported because of their large gap in age, status, and media opinion. Therefore, they finally broke up and maintained their relationship as a friendship. Even when Jiangwen lacked the capital to make his film, Liu Xiaoqing was still willing to lend money to help him.[3]


Jiang Wen and Zhou attend premiere

Jiang Wen has married twice in total. His ex-wife was Sandrine Chenivesse, a Doctor in anthropology from the University of Paris who researched about Chinese philosophy and Taoist culture. They were married in France in 1997, raised a daughter, and were revealed at Cannes Film Festival in 2000. During this relationship, Sandrine Chenivesse published several journals and articles that relate to her husband and Chinese culture and politics. However, as they came from different countries, the prolonged separation and intransigence between each other finally led to the divorce, which also enabled Jiang to find his final true love, Zhou Yun.

Both of them came from the Central Drama Academy in Peking and were taught by the same professor, which provided a basis and chance for their acquaintance. The loneliness and grief of the divorce gave Zhou a chance to get inside himself. Many similarities and job opportunities allow them to get to know and communicate with each other. They got known in the film Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003), acted in The Music box (2006), and finally got married in 2005 and have their first child during the making process of Jiang's third film, The Sun Also Rises (2007). Therefore, it can be said that their love was built from and the product of the film, and that is one of the reasons why Zhou became the only female protagonist in the rest of Jiang Wen's films."In my films, I always present the female as a pure and deiform figure."[4] This is how Jiang explains why he always invited his wife to be his film's protagonist, which can attest to his love and their relationship. However, during the beginning of this marriage, the entertainment industry and the media still held a negative image. They described Zhou as "the other woman" until Jiang Wen stood out and explained that there was no cheating between him and his ex-wife, and Zhou was innocent. This is unusual for Jiang, who has always been dismissive of outside opinion and the media.[4]


As a father, Jiang Wen has one daughter and two sons. Because of his broken up with Sandrine, Jiang Yilang, the daughter of Jiang, lived with her mother in Pairs quietly without outside bothering her. And the relationship between his daughter and Zhou has also been impacted by Jiang’s second marriage. Therefore, maybe because of his guilty, Jiang has spent more attention on his two sons and recently produced a film, Hidden Man(2018), for them. [5]

Jiang Wen and his son

Screen Roles

Jiang Wen began his acting career in The Last Empress (1986) through portraying the emperor, Puyi. His role of Puyi was a prodigal son who always enjoyed and splurged freely. To compare with the other emperor that he played was Qin Shi Huang in Qin Song (1996), who ended up unifying the national territory and extended leading power covering the entire Asia. Jiang Wen’s representations of emperor Qin guide audiences have a vivid feeling of Qin dynasty’s history which is being relieved by his scorching energy.[6] The drastic comparisons of two emperors shows Jiang Wen was able to substitute his mind into each character’s mental thoughts without any distractions. He was not just acting out historical figures, rather, he acted out his own reactions in different situations as he made those histories back to our living life again.

Jiang Wen in Red Sorghum (1987)

Additionally, In Red Sorghum (1987), Jiang Wen displayed “My Grandpa” as a masculine and savage young adult, who attracted “My grandma” by his masculine accent, showy rude actions and intoxicating posture.[6] He substituted himself as a rural young man who interpreted this role through showing sturdy back and controlling power in love relationships. Jiang Wen showed positive sensitivity and vitality in rural life as we can feel he experienced this honest and transparent living style himself rather than learning from the role’s characteristics. In contrast, in the film Li Lianying (1991): The Imperial Eunuch, Jiang Wen acted in slow and effortless posture, and talked through grotesque tone, but somehow we find stubbornness hidden in his speeches. In one scene, “Li Lianying” went for washroom needs in wilderness, a shot of sunshine shone on him. Instead of masculine power arose by sunshine in Red Sorghum, the sunshine here hit those altered males by their body abnormality.[6] Therefore, the alterations that Jiang, Wen made in representing two males’ characteristics are distinct and clear, which attract audiences to feel how helpless but strong attitude behind a pseudo-man.

Jiang Wen further extended his acting roles towards being secret lovers, in Hibiscus Town (1986), he displayed as a mature male that he existed as “ghost lover” illuminating the female’s lonely heart. Masculinity only got weakly expressed in ghost loving relations since those males had to endure humiliation. Jiang Wen interpreted the role of Qin Shutian as being a gentle, romantic and understandable lover always supported Yuyin.[6]

Throughout the discovery, we found Jiang Wen experienced roles of different extents and aspects in showing masculinity. Besides the above text, Jiang Wen was certificated as the winner of 12th Hundred Flowers Best Actor Award based on his exceptional performance in “secret lovers”. Again, this type of role playing demonstrates Jiang Wen was sensitive and affectionate towards life matters. He adds real life matters into “secret lovers” mental state, which inserts warm temperature into direct role play.

Later in Jiang Wen’s self-directed movies, such as Devils on the Doorstep (2000), he continued to imply his intentions into characters’ acting. The role of Ma Dasan speaks in Tangshan accent, that Jiang Wen designed as engaging himself into role playing. In some close-up slaughter scenes, Ma Dasan's masculinity power backs for showing how strong and dare that he was towards killing. Therefore, all his acting and film directing try to highlight inner message, such as integrity and strong inside masculinity, or being helpless as a pseudo-man, or being enforced for fathers’ responsibility.

Substantive Analysis of Jiang Wen's Profession

Critical Analysis of Devils on the Doorstep

Jiang's second directing work, Devils on the Doorstep (2000),  is adapted from writer You Fengwei's novel Survival. The films tells the story of some villagers taking care of a Japanese prisoner brought by a "mysterious man" during China's Anti-Japanese War and the subsequent tragedy. The film was released in 2000 and won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite being internationally well-received, the film was banned in China as its approach to the war was at odds with the country's narratives.

Japanese soldiers entering the village with navy music played
Japanese soldiers slaughtering villagers with the same navy music played

Th playede core music of the film is the Japanese navy song, Warship March, which appears several times during the movie. The tune is first played when Japanese soldiers enter the village at the film's beginning and give out candy to the children, and it is last played when Japanese soldiers slaughter the villagers. The director wanted to express his idea through this replay of the music: For the invaders, treating the victims under their rule kindly was no different from killing them, and it could be done with the same mentality. The Chinese should not forget their aggressors because of the enemy's temporary kindness. Jiang Wen once said in an interview, "I remember when I went to the Film Bureau to apply for this script last year, I heard the music of Japanese navy song coming from a school near the Film Bureau. This piece of music happened to be the music played when the Japanese massacred Chinese people in our film, and this piece of music once ran amuck on the land of China along with the Japanese army massacring Chinese people. I don't understand why such music appears in today's Chinese schools. Does our school not know or forget the humiliation?" [7]Jiang said the massacre in the film also took place in his hometown of Tangshan, and he wanted to use the movie to warn Chinese audiences to face history correctly and not treat evil people with kindness without cause.[7]

Visually, the film was shot in black and white except for the last scene. Black and white tones not only add a sense of history and a core of tragedy to the film but also reflect the thoughts of the main character, Ma Dasan. The film sets in Jiang Wen's hometown, Hebei Province, with the characters talking in a strong Hebei accent. Jiang plays Ma Dasan: a villager forced to hide a Japanese soldier and a translator. Unlike Jiang Wen's other memorable "hero" typed characters, Ma is an average countryman. Ma's attitude to the captives turns from unwilling to deciding to kill, but he eventually chooses to spare their lives. Despite several turning points, his internal values do not change: he and the villagers have unrealistic expectations about the Japanese invaders. At the film's end, Ma is beheaded by Japanese soldier Hanaya, whom he has been taking care of for the past months. At this point, colours finally occured on the screen, with blood red contrasting with the black and white before, indicating Ma is finally able to see the real world.

The last scene of Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Jiang Wen's Contribution to the Professional Field

A Selection of Jiang Wen's Accolades
Year Event Category Nominated Work
1987 10th Hundred Flowers Awards Best Actor Hibiscus Town
1989 12th Hundred Flowers Awards Best Actor Chun Tao
1994 12th China TV Golden Eagle Award Best Actor A Native of Beijing in New York
1996 33rd Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards Best Director In the Heat of the Sun
2000 53rd Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize of the Jury Devils on the Doorstep
2001 53rd Cannes Film Festival France Culture Award - Foreign Cineaste of the Year Devils on the Doorstep
2003 3rd Chinese Film Media Awards Best Actor The Missing Gun
2011 11th Chinese Film Media Awards Best Director Let the Bullets Fly
2013 17th Shanghai International Film Festival Outstanding Contribution Award /


A poster of Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

Jiang Wen is sometimes criticized for playing the characters as himself in the movies he directed. However, apart from that, Jiang Wen's acting strategy is flexible, and he is good at using language to create characters. In Missing Gun, Jiang Wen learns to speak in Sichuanese, which not only increases the credibility of the character, but also makes the emotional expression of the character more realistic and brings the audience a humorous vibe. After finishing shooting Let the Bullets Fly, he re-dubbed it with the actors in Sichuanese.[8] He commented, "It is really not easy to act in Mandarin, there is no character. When I speak Sichuanese, I feel confident and interested."[9] In Devils on the Doorstep (1999), the characters talk in the Hebei dialect. In the black-and-white scenes, the use of the Hebei dialect not only adds a sense of reality to the film but also exaggerates the characters' tones and facial expressions, increasing the tension between people on the screen. [8]


In 1994, Jiang Wen's first film, In the Heart of the Sun, won the 33rd Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan for Best Feature and Best Director, paving Jiang Wen's future as a director. In 2010, Jiang Wen's fourth film, Let the Bullets Fly, reached the box office at 659 million yuan in mainland China, establishing him as a successful commercial film director. In 2014, Gone With the Bullets grossed 515 million yuan; in 2018, Hidden Man grossed 582 million yuan. It is fair to say that Jiang Wen's films have won worldwide recognition for their artistry and the audience's favour at the box office.

By 2022, Jiang Wen had directed a total of six films, which is a relatively low number among his peers. Despite that, he has become a vital figure in the Chinese film industry with his seriousness toward his movies and the unique style he presents. Jiang Wen's films are often considered avant-garde and unconventional, a maverick presence in the Chinese director community. Critics called him "passionate but rational, arrogant but simple, proud but self-abased, impulsive and restrained." [10]In his films, he often uses comic and satirical dialogues to shape the characters and creates an exaggerated viewing atmosphere with highly visual impact composition and colour.

Key Societal, Economic, Political, Moral, and Historical Forces that Influenced Jiang Wen's Career

Military Background

Born in a military family, Jiang Wen's father had fought in the Korean War. Jiang Wen spent his childhood in his hometown of Tangshan before moving to Beijing with his parents when he was ten. Jiang Wen grew up in an army compound in Beijing, a community where soldiers live with their families. Due to the environment he grew up in, Jiang Wen is passionate about millatary matters and the CCP's revolution history. "Maybe because I'm a descendant of soldiers, I've been interested in stories about war since I was a child,"[7] Jiang Wen once said in an interview. As a result, Jiang's films often feature themes of war and revolution. Along with war themes, his works are often accompanied by a strong sense of patriotism. Unlike straightforward patriotic films, Jiang Wen's films do not celebrate the nation's greatness. Instead, they remind audiences not to forget history and repeat its mistakes by incorporating his criticism of the people and the country into the film's content

Cultural Revolution

Jiang Wen was born in 1963, and during his childhood, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was drawing to a close. In his youth, he was a member of the "Red Little Guards," a Red Guard-like group of elementary and middle school students. Because of their young age, they did not engage in direct criticism during the Cultural Revolution. The primary role of the Red Little Guards was to help the Red guards when needed or to observe and learn from them during their protest campaign. Jiang Wen grew up in such an environment of longing and watching revolution. When the Cultural Revolution ended when Jiang was 13, he had no chance to become a true revolutionary but rather a wannabe follower. In addition, during the later years of the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards were sent to the countryside, which caused some of their's illusional image of revolution to break. But the Red Little Guards did not have this experience, so the ideology of being a revolutionary in Jiang Wen's mind did not go through disillusionment himself. The revolution shown in Jiang Wen's films is not close to reality but an ideal fantasy from the perspective of a follower.[10]

The Ban of Devils on the Doorstep

China's film censorship system is the government's approach to monitoring and controlling media content. The censorship includes not inciting ethnic hatred, not harming national honour, not revealing state secrets, not promoting cults, etc. Jiang Wen's second film, Devils on the Doorstep, won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival but was banned in mainland China and has yet to be released today.

In the country's narrative, the Anti-Japanese War is usually portrayed as a glorious resistance, emphasizing the story of the wise and brave Chinese people defending against the Japanese invaders. But in the Devils on the Doorstep, there is no great battle scene, and the Chinese villagers have no sense of resistance or heroic spirit. On the contrary, most were cowardly, had no definite views, and were brutally slaughtered in the end. China's Film Bureau said the film "hurts the feelings of the Chinese nation" and deemed it vulgar for cursing words in the dialogues and showing nudity.[11]

The Film Bureau had forbidden Jiang Wen from attending the Cannes Film Festival with his work, yet he went anyway. After his winning, Jiang was prohibited from directing for five years by the Film Bureau for violating the regulations.[12] For the next five years, Jiang did not want to give up the stage, so he returned to acting. In 2003, he won Best Actor at the China Film Media Awards and the Shanghai Film Critics Awards for his role as Ma Shan in the Missing Gun, gaining public recognition for his acting skills again.

Reception of the Celebrity

Journey as a Director

Jiang Wen directed his first film, In the Heart of the Sun, in 1995, which earned him recognition as a director from critics and audiences. Time magazine called it "one of the world's most admired films of 1994. It is a new Chinese film in both content and form. Its appearance marks that Chinese film has entered a new era."[13]The success of this film marks that in the 1990s, Jiang Wen's works were highly praised by the world. In 2000, Jiang Wen's second film, Devils on the Doorstep, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prize of the Jury. The film has received high praise abroad. In 2001, Le Nouvel Observateur rated it as "a film that does not bear a single resemblance to any of the creative features from China."[14] But the film was deemed offensive in China and banned by the Film Bureau. Seven years later, in 2007, Jiang Wen's third film, The Sun Also Rises, was released. The first three films directed by Jiang Wen were all literary films. At that time, he was considered a literary film director with a unique personal style.

In 2010, Jiang Wen released his first commercial film, Let the Bullets Fly. From then on, Jiang Wen's films began to be commercialized. Since 2010, he has starred in a total of five films, of which he directed and acted in three. The remaining two films are The Lost Bladesman, starring Donnie Yen, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which also stars Donnie Yen. These five films are all commercial films, and Jiang Wen's reputation has shifted from a literary director to a commercial director. In the last two works he directed, because his personal style was too strong, it also caused backlash and dissatisfaction from the audience. Some audiences are fond of his unique magical realism in the films. Still, some began to see his style as an expression of his narcissism. Acclaim for him gradually shifted toward more polarized assessments.

US Critics about Let the Bullets Fly

US commented the movie Let the Bullets Fly was the most savage anti-corruption movie focused on state-sponsored criminality. The theme of the movie targets on expressing an allegory of the reality of corruption in China and the chaos of Chinese society. Thus, US critics could hardly understand the rising popularity of this movie in the US since the movie itself has double meaning based on audiences’ perspectives. Additionally, US critics noticed that Chinese political system takes every cry from public as camouflages for them to better manipulate the society using power. Commenters said politicians only have office through committing crimes, which means the public will take all outcomes as they have no choices.  In Jiang Wen’s movie, Zhang Mazi’s thugs throw sacks of money to people in the Goose Town and then Huang’s thugs rode on the streets to take the money back.[15] Those chaotic events happened to disrupt the order of people’s life, which hurt innocent people at the end through raping and robbing. Therefore, US critics thought the movie was a perfect reflection of current Chinese politics, which the movie should attract attention in China for the public to have freedom in speaking.

Chinese Society

There are two sentences in the article by Xin Lang that directly describe about most people and audiences' impressions of Jiang Wen. One is "There has never been a Chinese director so unclassifiable and undefinable in the eyes of liberal intellectuals." [16]The other sentence is, "There has never been a Chinese director present so much complex public admiration and reverence for Chairman Mao." [16]His particular military personnel family background dominantly influences his works and filmmaking methods. Plenty of symbolism, metaphor, black humor, and heroism become the most famous labels of his works. His fans love him immensely, oppositely also. There are also numerous groups of people who think Jiang Wen was still immersed in his own world, like a boy who likes to fantasize. But all of them may agree that Jiang always wants to describe a heroism story, the growth of the boy, and his unswerving political tendency.

Many interviewers said the interview with Jiang always begins with a discussion about Mao. In China Perspectives, there still be a record of an interview between him and his ex-wife, and the tilte is, For us, Mao was his first love.[16]

Luo Yonghao, a successful businessman and a famous Internet celebrity, commented on his film In the Heat of the Sun "it was successful artistically, but it looks like a Nazi boy mourning the Nazi Fuhrer indeed."[16] In Douban, a Chinese IMDB website, there were some comments thought Jiang has the red Guard complex and described him as a full of heroic illusions boy who fights out of the courtyard, and he has the dream to conquer the world, which can sacrifice everyone in order to the sake of his own dream.[16] However, other famous directors, like Feng Xiaogang, praise Jiang highly as a big fan with enough passion and love the film devoutly. Li An claims that Jiang has much more talent than himself in public. Similarly, Xie Jin and Xie Fei also praised him with high expectations.[16] Therefore, it is obvious that his reception of him polarizes with a large gap or even ultimately. In Zhihu, some more specific opinions have explained why a director, an actor, and an artist have extremely polar impressions.

"Insufferably arrogant.", "A filmmaker of great personal magnetism and full of skepticism, pessimism, and rebelliousness.", "Since the success of Let the Bullets Fly, no one could check and balance Jiang Wen in the creation process. Jiang Wen's film creation was too erratic and out of control. As a result, Jiang Wen's desire for personal expression exceeded his respect for the film." "If you don't know where this dialogue comes from, and don't understand its historical context, then you cannot understand why letting bullets fly is so brilliant and attractive."[17]

Therefore, in sum, Jiang Wen's inside pride in himself and his identity, the unique historical event and period of his film, excessive self-expression, and less empathy with the audience have finally caused and formed his polarized evaluation of himself and his movies. There was one comment that preferably concluded his film "Special-interest films with excessive commercial publicity."[17]

Scandals with Liu Xiaoqing

Jiang Wen and Liu Xiaoqing

Jiang Wen’s elusive love relationship with Liu Xiaoqing started in 1986 when they collaborated in the film Hibiscus Town. Liu Xiaoqing already won the award of Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers, while Jiang Wen was a newcomer in entertainment industry. Their relationship was rooted from emotional drama scenes which needs actors to substitute themselves into the setting of performing as a miserable couple. They began recognized love relationship in 1988 while filming Chun Tao, their love was controversial in real life around that era. Jiang Wen was a relationship outsider as he interrupted the marriage between Liu Xiaoqing and his husband Chen Guojun. The strong love between them led Liu Xiaoqing provided financial support to the filming progress of Jiang Wen’s movies. However, their love only maintained about 8 years and they got separate from each other. Possibly due to Jiang Wen started to love Ning Jing, whereas no official confirmation for complicate love relations among three of them. Jiang Wen felt thankful to how Liu Xiaoqing helped him in the starting progress of his directorship. The female personas in his later films all have characteristics of Righteousness, whereas males are more socialized and realistic, which Jiang Wen probably designed scenes from this love relationship.[18]

How Audiences Perceive Celebrities and their Scandals?

Audiences will have different individual access to celebrities’ professional development and related scandals, which makes them to interpret the images of the same celebrity differently. Audiences will form stereotypes based on their interests and dislikes of any controversial behavior or news’ topics that are related with celebrities. For fans who show strong love of Jiang Wen, they always perceive him in a positive way. Those fans apply the high popularity and ratings of Jiang Wen’s amazing movies onto the persona of Jiang Wen. In this case, their love towards Jiang Wen’s movies can be transformed and be connected to their full of love to Jiang Wen as well. On the other side, audiences will weigh more negatively on Jiang Wen’s scandals with different females rather than appreciating the accomplishments of his movies. Thus, those audiences will criticize on how chaotic the love relationships exist in entertainment industry. They dislike the elusive and secret love between Jiang Wen and many other female acresses, which they assume that Jiang Wen is unable to manage his life properly.

Moreover, audiences’ stereotypes of what they form for different celebrities lead to their different responses of scandals. Typically, whenever new scandals of well-known celebrities come out, public will quickly know it and have various discussions as a way of relieving pressures. Thus, the public mostly treat any scandals the same all for relaxing and then they will forget them, which the public only perceive any news for celebrities in a short-living matter. In the above text talking about Jiang Wen’s scandal with two of female actresses, it dissipated away later since newer scandals of other celebrities quickly covered it over in digital age era.    

Critical Literature Review

Making Publics, Making Places[10]

Hongyan Zou and Peter C Pugsley examine "how the city's protagonists are contextualized within the architecture and landscape and how the city is spatially depicted and imagined amidst a time of immense technological change" [10]The central opinion of them is that the streets, buildings, and Invasion of personal space in the film are used to discuss about the intersecting concepts of public and private space. They pointed out that Jiang's In the Heat of the Sun reflects on the generational change occurring at the time and the shifting relationship with the space, which sees the young people brought up in such compounds only vaguely adhering to the socialist values and political movements of their elders.[10] That explains why there are plenty of internal monologues of Ma and fighting scenes in the film. The process f the protagonist unlocking and exploring the urban space also implies the aimless, exhausted, and gloomy of that generation's internal feelings.[10]

Therefore, this film can reveal "a very personalized, highly spatial memory of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution,"[10] which seems to have neither catastrophic political struggles nor personal traumas. They claim that the military compound is the symbol of the space of power, an emblem of social rank, and the media functions almost solely as a political tool imparting revolutionary ideas and glorifying the army's victory rather than entertainment. Therefore, Ma and his friends, who grew up in this kind of confined space of background and environment, admire the soldiers and dream of becoming war heroes, which becomes one of the motivations for their violence as a way of killing time and harnessing their rebellious spirit for these disaffected youth. These cinematic places mirror the complexities of urbanization and globalization and demonstrate how the production of space in the cinematic world reflects a changing public.[10]

Generally speaking,  the symbolic spaces of Beijing in Jiang's film are depicted through its streetscapes relative to a dramatically changing society where transforming economies and technologies can be presumed to increasingly impact on the day-to-day lives of the contemporary Chinese public..[10] Consider this book with this maiden work of Jiang, and it provides another perspective for us to reflect and imagine the cultural background, economic, and political influence to him, which can explain his unique sense of masculinity and the military temperament of this northerner.

面对历史的“作者表达” —— 评姜文电影《 邪不压正 ("Author's Expression" in the Face of History - Comments on Jiang Wen's Film Hidden Man)[19]

Liu Chun argues that Jiang Wen’s films contain directors’ expression and movie originality going beyond audiences’ preferences. Jiang Wen narrated the film Hidden Man through dramatic story structure which includes concealments and disconnected scenes. The author Liu cited another director Ning Hao’s comments of Jiang Wen’s movie which contains mysterious and humorous communicating strategy, typical narrative rhythm and the director’s preferred imagery.[19] Moreover, Jiang Wen’s movie style makes time distinctions blurry, which motivates readers to imagine and logically reasoning on disconnected pieces. Additionally, the author cited core critics and film theorists’ idea of enhancing and supporting directors’ identity of consenting their ownership of movie style.

Liu Chun further points out how Jiang Wen displays vivid history through imitations of actors’ playing in the movie Hidden Man. The records of history are intermediate background stages for drama playing, while, at the same time, dramatic formatting of the movie dilutes the truth or darkness of the history. Jiang Wen cares more about mental play inside characters and boosts the sensitivity of history performance out for public.[19]

To conclude, this literature review demonstrates us how Jiang Wen interconnects altered reality with dreamy representational style. This mixing directorship motivates himself to enjoy life that he interpretates each living constituents as sources for brainstorming film works. Moreover, the blurry pieces in his movies definitely are a mirror side of our life wonders that attract readers’ attention. Jiang Wen’s blurry movie style matches with our life as we generate questions though passing experiences. His interchangeable position between being a director and an audience earns him back with the highest popularity and celebrity status in entertainment industry. Thus, the certificated celebrity he earned is because his colorful and expressive communicating visual way, which triggers audiences to find sympathetic resonance inside it.

梦想当英雄的孩子 —姜文的电影与历史记忆 (A Child Who Dreams of Being a Hero - Jiang Wen's Films and Historical Memory)[20]

Shen Kexin states that Jiang Wen’s emotional expression and his profound reflection of story background will impact his movies’ structures. All five of his self-directed movies settled the timing in periods of anti-Japanese and "Cultural Revolution" period. Jiang Wen disclosed his dream of becoming a hero in naive mind, that shows he persisted the origin of himself on the way of forwarding to future. In the film In the Heat of the Sun, Ma Xiaojun always led his friends with him to make “naïve” and “bad” jokes on others, such as teasing teachers or interrupting transit operation. While, Ma Xiaojun kept imagining himself becoming a hero of saving villagers as his dreamy goals, though others laughed at this unrealistic daydreaming.[20] Thus, Jiang Wen praised for Ma’s dare spirit, whereas he felt regretful of children lost their naïve mind in this broken world.

In the film Devils on the Doorstep, Jiang Wen designed Ma Dasan as a kind and stupid heroic person, since Ma and other villagers did not decide to kill a Japanese prisoner and a traitor, instead, the villagers sent two prisoners back to exchange for food. However, when Japanese armies heard that Japan lost the war which triggered them to kill all villagers. Ma Dasan saved himself and tended to have revenge for villagers, unfortunately, his stupidness resulted him a sad ending.[20] Therefore, war absurdity points out the contradiction between Chinese peasants’ weakness and urgency of fighting. Jiang Wen inserted his proposal of saving China in wars through heroic spirit, while he reflected how peasants fought stupidly into chaotic wars that wasted too many innocent lives.

In the film Let the Bullets Fly set Beiyang warlord period as background, Jiang Wen described Zhang Mazi as a real hero in which the character punished the evil and promoted the societal goodness. In the end of the movie, Zhang Mazi rode a horse in loneliness, which shows audiences that heroes will say goodbye to their former glory, and the risk of uncertainty for heroes’ future will lead them back to silence and normal pace.[20]

Overall, Jiang Wen used movies as a medium for expressing his voice of enhancing the appreciation towards strong human-beings lived in war periods. He showed respect towards their heroic fighting while Jiang Wen also understood the egocentrism insides normal people’s minds. This means Jiang Wen’s movies present the emotional reactions that people will have since he took into account of real history and basic humanity. The author Shen emphasized that Jiang Wen’s movies shared his historical memory of war periods to audiences which recognized his nationality and full of love towards China. In the end, Shen highlights that Jiang Wen persisted on what he loves and aims for goals, which Jiang Wen visualized history by adding critical and emotional thinking besides to show his own position. [21]Another article by Wang Meng also reviewed that any character role performed by Jiang Wen was a typical and amazing description of reality. For Jiang Wen’s directorship, all his movies demonstrate his talent, each of the movie goes beyond artistic evaluation boundary since Jiang Wen designed movies from first point of view in chronological settings.

姜文电影中的女性群像剖析 (Analysis of Female Group Images in Jiang Wen's Film)[22]

Li Zhuyu and Lu Xiaoyan point out that the female character's image and feature is a significant element of Jiang Wen's films which can help his film to attract more audiences and enhance the box office. Therefore they want to research and compare the different female chartacaters in Jiang's cinemas and classify them with different functions so that they can dig in deeper and understand more about Jiang's films through a female research perspective.

They generally classify them as three different kinds of female characters: a) the holder who primarily designed to attract and inspire male's desire, for example, the Milan in the Heat of the Sun, which can be understood as the symbol of desire, especially erotism; b)feodal characters, these female characters always present as the identity of the mother who is abiding by traditional culture, rule, and family, which mostly can be understood as the product of Traditional patriarchal society and provide an ironic and critical way of reflection; c) the trapped, most of these female characters always represent those advanced, progressive, and independent women who cannot get rid of the difficulties from outside pressure or internal conflict like Guan Qiaohong in Hidden Man.

Usually, these different kinds of female characters may occur together rather than individually because of their polyhedral functions. However, the authors claim that although the female character in Jiang's film is multidimensional and vivid, it still has stereotypes and biased because no matter how independent or excellent these women characters are, they are still used to form and develop the male character's personalities, help them grow up and finally become a man or hero as an accessory in the film. Also, the female characters who are against the social rule and traditional, loyal female images will receive a tragic end like Mrs. Ma.

Therefore, the authors agree that the View of feminism in Jiang Wen's films still follows the traditional myth of female inferiority. Taking the heroism of male consumers as marketing is the root of Jiang Wen's lopsided portrayal of women.

However, although Jiang's films still cannot eliminate the impact of a patriarchal society, the independent women in his films are still preferable and much better than other female characters in other films. It is not certain of his personal opinion about feminism, but throughout his interviews and some dialogue in his films, we can say that he is trying to build an independent female character and respect them.

Critical Debates

Jiang Wen's Politics: The Contradictory Dreamer

In Shen's article, she called Jiang "a kid who dreamed of being a hero." In the six films directed by Jiang Wen, he has played roles in the pursuit of heroism. He is a child who wants to be a hero; he is a hero of the moment who kills the enemy from kindness to anger; he is a romantic hero who is constantly searching, etc. These characters with different life paths but similar characteristics belong to director Jiang Wen's own hero complex.[20]

Jiang Wen's childhood was spent in the late years of the Cultural Revolution. As a Red Little Guard, he did not have a chance to fight in wars like his father, nor did he experience the sense of mission everyone had when new Socialist China was founded. The children of Jiang Wen's generation lived in military compounds, listened to the revolutionary stories of the older generation, and witnessed the outstanding achievements of the younger generation, who were slightly older than them. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese society began to reflect on the pain and suffering caused by the excessive revolution. Growing up in such an environment, the children fantasize that they can be revolutionary heroes like their predecessors, but they cannot shake off the failure of the revolution in reality.[10] Under such contradictory thoughts, Jiang Wen chose to use ironic and absurd forms of expression to create a safe revolutionary world for himself in the film world.

Zhang Muzhi leading the people in Echeng in Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

In Jiang Wen's revolutionary world, Mao Zedong was an important figure. Jiang Wen once said that the Selected Works of Mao Zedong was a book that greatly influenced him. He said, "Mao Zedong was not only a great statesman but also a very charming artist. He regarded the whole of China as his work."[23] His admiration for Mao is reflected in the movie Let the Bullets Fly, which his protagonist Zhang Muzhi and the bandits he leads are considered to represent Mao and the Communist Party. During the final battle, Zhang Muzhi overturned the county magistrate of Echeng with the help of the people of Echeng. The act of leading the people to overthrow the old system is similar to Mao Zedong Thought, "China's armed struggle is a revolutionary war led by the proletariat with peasants as the main body."[24] But unlike Mao's hope of uniting the people, some critisized that Jiang Wen showed his distrust and contempt for the people from a bystander's perspective. The residents of Echeng did not join Zhang Muzhi's team for ideals, but chose to join the winner's team after he showed the illusion of victory. Jiang Wen told the audience through the movie that people are blind and ignorant, which is also reflected in his other film, Devils at the Doorstep. In the movie, the villagers are killed because of their blind friendliness to the Japanese invaders. These films all reflect Jiang Wen's inner world as a contradictory generation: his idealism as a hero and his suspicion and irony of revolution.

Jiang Wen's films are full of magical realism plots, and a large part of these contents are reflected through his portrayal of "absurd people." These people have different characters. Some behave exaggeratedly, some are numb, some have comedy effects, and they all don't see the current situation with a clear view. His films create a magical tone by portraying a large number of people who are not sober. These plots also conveyed director Jiang Wen's inner thoughts: everyone is drunk, but I wake up alone (众人皆醉我独醒).

Jiang Wen was born into the privileged class of Chinese society, not someone who "came from the masses." In his comments on Devils on the Doorstep, he said that his purpose was to use the movie to warn the Chinese not to be friendly to the enemy.[7] He tells the audience not to be weak and not to be numb, but he rarely establishes any sapiential and positive character in his films. Jiang Wen understands the power of the people, so his movies are intended to "awaken the people." However, at the same time, he distrust and mock the people he tries to awaken, which is the core of his conflict.[25]

To sum up, Jiang Wen's films contain his ideal vision for the victory of the revolution and his pessimistic attitude towards reality. Some people think that Jiang Wen's works are the embodiment of his patriotism, while others argue that his narcissistic heroism produces his films. We agreed that Jiang Wen is an embodiment of the children born in the army compound in the 1960s: they do not believe in the grand narrative of the revolutionary era, but they maintain an ideal and pure imagination of the revolution.[26] Jiang Wen showed his doubts about revolution and a condescending critical attitude through his methods of portraying characters. His pursuit of the ultimate victory of the revolution embodied his vision for the Chinese nation.

Jiang Wen's Style: The Limitations

Jiang Wen continued his career as a commercial film director after the massive success of Let the Bullets Fly in 2010, which reached the box office at nearly 700 million yuan. In 2014, Gone with the Bullets was released, and in 2018, Hidden Man was released. All three movies composed the "The Trilogy of the Republic Era." However, audiences didn't respond as well to the last two films as they did to the first one, and neither film did as well as Let the Bullets Fly at the box office. Audiences criticized them for being too absurd, vague, exaggerated, etc.

The protagonist streaking over the roofs in Hidden Man (2018)

The absurdist narration has always been one of the characteristics of Jiang Wen's films. In Jiang Wen's early film, In the Heart of the Sun, the director makes fun of reality by depicting a minor figure in a grand narrative of history. In Devils on the Doorstep, he used black and white pictures, exaggerated actions, and music to shape its absurd tone based on realism, resulting in blurring the line between reality and fantasy. In Let the Bullets Fly, Jiang Wen also tells the tale of a romantic revolution in a real-world-like setting through exaggerated dialogue and plot.

However, in Gone with the Bullets, the proportion of absurdity increased. The film begins with a long, meaningless dance show interspersed with no longer "real" elements. The fantastical elements start to overshadow the narrative structure. In his latest work, Hidden Man, some believe Jiang's limitations are beginning to occur. According to Qiang, Jiang Wen limited himself to his obsession with his style. He wished to surpass himself, but instead, he was trapped by himself.[27] Liu once commented in the film that many plots have nothing to do with the main story, such as Pan's mocking of the critics. Although they represented Jiang Wen's unrestrained style, they also interfered with the development of the plot. Some weird and even vulgar scenes touched the audience but alienated them simultaneously.[19]

Jiang Wen's success stems from his strong personal touch as a director, in which magical realism has won audiences' affection. But scholars believe that in his recent works, his pursuit of individual style shifted his creativity from positive liberty to negative liberty.[27] We believe that the absurdity in Jiang Wen's works still makes his films stand out among other Chinese films. However, as mentioned above, Jiang Wen should continue to find the balance between personal style and storytelling to ensure the integrality of his movies.


Although Jiang Wen has participated in a few films, he has achieved remarkable achievements in a limited number. In this biography, we summarize Jiang Wen's accomplishments in both acting and directing, and analyze the different reactions to him from critics and audiences at different times in his career. In terms of performance, Jiang Wen has achieved worldwide acclaim through his character research and control of language. In his director's works, Jiang Wen's directing style is unique, integrating magical reality and absurdity into every detail of the film, such as colours, characters, music, etc. Director Jiang Wen conveyed the expectations of his inner world to the audience through unreasonable scenes. Such prominent personal traits make him play an essential role in Chinese cinema.

In the process of interpreting Jiang Wen's films, it is necessary to consider the life experience of director Jiang Wen. We believe that the formation of Jiang Wen's values ​​and artistic attainments is inseparable from the historical process of China. Growing up in the military compound at the end of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Wen's spiritual background revolves around the two themes of fantasy and disillusionment. He yearned for revolution, victory, and a heroic self but simultaneously questioned the possibility of revolution. Such contradictions create the magical realism and irony of his film style. He mockingly parodies the revolutions of Chinese people in the old times but also expresses his desire for an ideal revolution in the film.

Jiang Wen's heroic complex is also reflected in his excessive obsession with his own style. Jiang Wen's latest films have all been adapted from novels, but they are also very different from the stories. Scholars believe that Jiang Wen's film disappointment in recent years stems from his being confined to his own style. The intense "Jiang Wen-style" conceals the narrative of the film itself.

We provide readers with an interpretation of Jiang Wen from multiple perspectives. Our biography analyzes Jiang Wen's unique artistic style and deconstructs the origins of his values ​​from a family, social, and historical perspective. In the following research, we can study Jiang Wen's directing techniques from the characters' emotional characteristics and the narrative Jiang Wen created.


  1. Xiao Nuo (2007-09-13). "竞报:姜文虽"轴",却鞭策他不断进步(Jiang Wen is Stubborn, but he is Progressing)".
  2. XIao, Cui. "《小崔说事》姜文专访——让子弹在阳光下飞 (Cui Interviews Jiang Wen: Let the Bullets Fly Under the Sun)".
  3. Enhu, Du (2011-01-08). "刘晓庆曾借钱圆姜文导演梦 两人交情匪浅 (Liu Xiaoqing Once Borrowed Money to Make Jiang Wen's Dream Come True)". Sohu. Retrieved 2022-11-11.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Zui, Renwu (2022-04-04). "姜文:我不允许周韵太性感 (Jiang Wen: I Don't Allow Zhou Yun to be too Sexy)".
  5. You, Shu (2018-07-16). "姜文用《邪不压正》给儿子写了一封情书:世事维艰,成长是你唯一的出路!(Jiang Wen Wrote a Love Letter to his Son in Hidden Man: The World is Hard, but Growth is the Only Way Out!)".
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 unknown, unknown (September 21 2007). "姜文的角色光谱 (Jiang Wen's character spectrum)". 新浪新闻中心. Retrieved November 9 2022. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Li, Erwei (August 15, 1999). "姜文与《鬼子来了》(Jiang Wen and Devils on the Doorstep)". New Films. 1999, No.04: 51–55 – via China National Knowledge Infrastructure.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Sun, Jizhao. (2012). The Study of Jiangwen’s Performing Arts (MA). College of Meishi Academy of Chongqing University.
  9. Wu, Guanping (March 5, 2011). "不是编剧的演员不是好导演——姜文访谈(An actor who is not a writer is not a good director: A Jiang Wen Interview)". Film Art. 2011 No.2: 79–97 – via China National Knowledge Infrastructure.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 Wan, Chuanfa (Feburary 1, 2012). "Jiang Wen: On His Identity and His Film Style". Contemporary Cinema. 2012 No.02: 58–83 – via CNKI. Check date values in: |date= (help) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":3" defined multiple times with different content
  11. Corliss, Richard (July 24, 2000). "Devils on His Doorstep".
  12. "Chinese director Jiang Wen banned from film-making".
  13. "In the Heart of the Sun". Baidu Baike.
  14. 中国电影百年·下编(The Hundred Years of Chinese Film). 中国广播电视出版. 2006. pp. 276–277.
  15. Hendrix, Grady (February 29 2012). "The Most Popular Chinese Movie of All Time". SLATE. Retrieved November12 2022. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Danei, Xu (2014-12-27). "媒体札记:惹毛姜文". Xin Lang.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Zhi Hu (2018-07-15). "为什么很多人认为姜文的电影很扯淡".
  18. unknown, unknown (December 21 2019). "25年后刘晓庆与姜文罕见同框:爱过她,没有人后悔 (25 years later, Liu Xiaoqing and Jiang Wen meet in the same frame)". 渥太华微生活. Retrieved Nov12 2022. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Liu, Chun (November 15, 2018). [doi:CNKI:SUN:YSGJ.0.2018-06-003. "面对历史的"作者表达" —— 评姜文电影《 邪不压正 》("Author's Expression" in the Face of History - Comments on Jiang Wen's Film Hidden Man)"] Check |url= value (help). 艺术广角. 06: 12–17 – via 中国知网.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Shen, Kexin (Summer 2016). [doi:10.15997/j.cnki.qnjz.2016.23.055. "梦想当英雄的孩子 —姜文的电影与历史记忆 (A Child Who Dreams of Being a Hero - Jiang Wen's Films and Historical Memory)"] Check |url= value (help). 广电视听. 23: 83–84 – via 中国知网.
  21. Wang, Meng (December 1st 2017). [doi:CNKI:SUN:DYTX.0.2007-12-006. "映像姜文 (Image of Jiang Wen)"] Check |url= value (help). 电影. 12: 16–17 – via 中国知网. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. Zhuyu, Li (Spring, 2020). "姜文电影中的女性群像剖析 (Analysis of Female Group Images in Jiang Wen's Film)". 戏剧电影与电视艺术. 2096-3866(2020)21-0037-02: 37–38. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  23. "姜谈毛泽东(Jiang Talks about Mao Zedong)".
  24. "毛泽东思想(The Thoughts of Mao Zedong)".
  25. "《邪不压正》再引口碑争议,这些年,姜文为什么越来越难懂了?(Why does Jiang Wen Keep Getting Harder to Understand)".
  26. "任性"姜文:红色老男孩的戏仿革命之路".
  27. 27.0 27.1 Qiang, Liheng (2018). "姜氏"式微"——从《邪不压正》的"落寞"浅谈开去(Jiang Wen is Falling: In the Perspective of Hidden Man)". Dazhong Wenyi. 2018 No.19.


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