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Film Director Jiang Wen Credit: Isabella Cuan , Isabella Cuan

Art imitates life for internationally acclaimed Chinese film director and actor Jiang Wen. “I never change my own filming style — it is so much alike to my personality," he said. 

Thursday night, Jiang spoke to more than 700 students gathered at the Harrison Auditorium, eager to hear from one of the most influential figures in the Chinese film industry. Professor Xiaojue Wang from the East Asian Language and Civilization department, professor Meta Mazaj from the Cinema Studies Department and Jerome Silbergeld, an expert in Chinese Film theory from Princeton University, joined the panel discussion.

Jiang's speech was short and modest. He recollected his childhood experiences with school and told the audiences that dialogue, rather than speech, is the more effective medium for communication.

“I make films to forget," Jiang said of his inspiration for his films, which chronicle China's 20th century sociopolitical upheavals. For him, film is an artistic outlet for his memories and emotions.

“For me, the [Chinese] Cultural Revolution is like the relationship between a rock star and his fans,” Jiang said, referencing Chairman Mao Zedong's zealous followers. "[But] it is hard to accurately represent the most important themes — revolution and sex — through the medium of film,” he added.

Jiang acknowledged that some misinterpretation of his films is unavoidable, "just like the communication between people," he said. "There is some beauty hidden in the misconceptions, but over-interpretation often distorts my own intentions.” 

He believes that communication between the Chinese film industry and Hollywood is necessary and unavoidable, but he won’t sacrifice his own style just to cater to the needs of international audiences. For him, staying true to himself is more important than commercial success.

One of the most integral parts of the event lay in the question and answer session. Jiang answered students’ questions patiently and approached sensitive issues like censorship in China with humor.

Jiang's candid and approachable nature impressed the audience. “He is here not to give a lesson but to communicate and be friends with us," second-year Graduate School of Education student Xiaxia Sun said. "He and his films are very alike: interesting, but much more than that."

"I respect the way he is making films," College and Wharton sophomore Sophie Chen said. "He stays true to his own style without excessively catering to the taste of the audience.”

Event organizers Gilda Zhao, a 2013 School of Social Policy & Practice graduate, David Sun, GAPSA Vice Chair for Social Activities, and Connie Kang, a College and Wharton junior and the Daily Pennsylvanian photo manager, were pleased that the event was well-received.

World-renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang, a graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music, made a surprise appearance at the event and received rounds of applause from the audience.

All quotes in this article were translated from Mandarin by Contributing Writer Ruihong Liu. 

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