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Dream of the Empty City

Ji Dan

Release year: 2008

Run time: 75 mins

Film type: Documentary


An old man in hospice care tells his life story from beginning to end, of Peking Opera and singer Ma Lianliang, and of the humiliation and desperation of old age. Soon, the border between dreams and memories, reality and mental confusion become indistinct; the old man is slipping away, falling into the depths of his soul. Is it the shadow of death that disturbs his rest? Who is he? What kind of life did he lead?


Director biography

Born in 1963 in Heilongjiang. After graduating from Beijing Normal University, Ji Dan spent time in Japan from 1988, studying at Yokohama National University and at Kyoto Seika University. She later joined Asia Press International and in 1994 began producing independent documentaries. The Elder (1999), a film about Tibetan farmers, was shown at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. Ji has also filmed many documentary programs for NHK television. She participated in the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 2003, as producer of the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize-winning . Wellspring (2002). Her . Dream of the Empty City (2007) was produced with support from the Pusan International Film Festival AND Fund.

Director's statement

Every time I passed by the old man, my camera would be drawn to him. He would immediately lapse into a monologue for the camera and the girl behind it. I always approached him with the utmost interest and curiosity, as if I were going to watch the opera—you never knew where the monologue would lead. I admired him for aging so gracefully, like a dying tree facing down the wind for one last time. What was his life like? What were his tragedies?

In the process of making this film, I feel like I've gained some kind of inheritance. As I see another small life played out against the backdrop of these momentous times, as I face my own aging and death one day, I no longer feel alone. I hope in the future to take this man's memoirs, which he wrote when he was 70, and turn them into a serial so that his monologue can continue to flow unhindered.