Ninth Uncle

EnglishChina2014 / 75min
导演:Wu Jian-xin

This documentary aims to show the stories of ordinary people on Zhongshan Road represented by night market manager Ninth Uncle, as well as the vicissitudes of life in a changing era.


Ninth Uncle is nicknamed mayor of the night market. He has been handling the Zhongshan Road Night Market for 30 years as a contract staff for the government. All kinds of private business owners gather up at the market; some are nice, some are not. Ninth Uncle rules the market with a slightly rough, gangster approach and it works well. With his hard effort, the night market grew from just a few street vendors to a full-fledged 300-stand food plaza. The Zhongshan Road has since been known far and wide for its gourmet food. As the market thrives, the business owners and the citys district officer show more respect to him. Thus Ninth Uncles status is quite high in the area. Although he is almost 70, NinthUncle contributes most of his time to the night market. Whenever the night falls, he puts on his work uniform and brings his baton to go for a patrol in the night market with his team, no matter the weather. By midnight, he invites old friends from the market to drink and play card games. Dizzy, they then take a high-profile late night walk through the city.

Ninth Uncle is successful at the night market, but he is not doing well when it comes to family. He lived a rather rough childhood and divorced several times. Now that he is old, he fails to enjoy a good relationship with his children. One lucky thing is that his current wife Xiao Yang is a gentle lady who doesnt like to fight. She takes very good care of Ninth Uncle, too. On this years Mid-Autumn Festival, Ninth Uncle and Xiao Yang got together with the family and worshiped their ancestors. As they ate, Ninth Uncle asked his son to get a stable job and marry soon. His son wouldnt. The reunion ended in dismal.


While the century-old Zhongshan Road looks shattered in the day, it transforms into a busy golden route in the night. Amidst the bustles and hustles are people making money by selling different things. And among these people is Sixth Uncle, a night market business owner and long-time neighbors with Ninth Uncle. They have been sharing drinks and meals for decades like brothers. Theyare such good friends that they almost meet up daily to play cards and drink wine. Sixth Uncle was a gangster when he was young. He used to cheat in poker games and even spent three years on reeducation through labor due to gambling. After losing his clothing business, Sixth Uncle returned to Zhongshan Road to open a food shop and has been in the trade for more than 20 years since then. There is also Sister Hen whose old chicken porridge shop receives more customers as it draws deeper into the night. A few years ago, Sister Hen lost 2.8 million due to gambling. It cost her only more than a year to pay the debts. Now, shes ready to rise again.

But the 30-year-old night market is counting its days, because the government will soon renew the Zhongshan Road. By then, this night market featuring gourmet food will cease to exist. As demolishment work goes on, the night market loses its customers. Sixth Uncle used to enjoy a great business, but his shop has now been torn down. He can do nothing but to be a street vendor again with his wife and a few staff. Some old stores announce that they will soon relocate. Ninth Uncle has a night market revival plan in mind, but he can only watch his kingdom decline day by day. The world is not on his side.

The Chinese New Year is drawing near, and a few more facades of the street are being knocked down. But Ninth Uncle is thrilled because neighboring Gonghe Road, now a night market street, is to be managed by him. Ninth Uncle is busy recruiting new managerial staff to keep the street in order and to secure their authority at work. At the same time, all of the private business owners in the night market are also getting ready for the busiest festival of a year.


About the Director



Wu Jian-xin was born in Nanning, Guangxi in 1969 and currently lives in Shanghai. He holds a master-equivalent degree in law and has taken many different jobs since graduation. He has worked in the fields of graphic and interior design and was once a freelance photographer. He has also worked as a photojournalist and an editor in the media circle. Wu is now a university lecturer and a documentary filmmaker. In 2009, he started shooting his first documentary FuXing Park (52 min), which was nominated Humanities Award in the First Phoenix Video Documentary Award 2012. In 2013, Wu’s documentary My Home was My Castle , following Ninth Uncle , was again selected as one of the CNEX annual thematic production. In the same year, My Home was My Castle awarded the best proposal in the Forth CNEX Chinese Documentary Forum (CCDF), and entered the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Forum.


From the Director

Nanning, Guangxi is my hometown, and Zhongshan Road is well known to its locals. I have been working in different cities for years; prior to this, I left Nanning for further study. But every time I go back, I would get a bowl of noodles by a stand at Zhongshan Road although I don’t usually shop at its night market. I never expected the market to grow to this big, and I never knew there exist “night market managers” like Ninth Uncle. Two years ago, I heard the market was to be demolished, and decided to go back to film the place and interview people to soothe my homesickness and sorrow. I delved into the history of the century-old Zhongshan Road and the night market, which is also already 30 years old. I want to learn about Nanning people’s affection for the road while looking into the origins of traditional southern food. Through a friend, I had a chance to interview the night market manager Ninth Uncle. Right after the interview, I had a clear idea – I would film about a story of someone special, and this person would be Ninth Uncle.

Ninth Uncle is a typical street man of the urban south. He has a strong personality and speaks in vulgar language. I think, in any street, any market, there is someone like Ninth Uncle. They are long-time survivors of the streets who fully believe in street rules. They like to call friends their brothers and favor fame over money. Their words are of much importance in the area; sometimes they are friends with both the police and gangsters. In his territory, which he has cultivated for 30 years, Ninth Uncle adopts an unhiding style. He rarely hides anything from anyone, even when an outsider likes me filming him closely. He is a grumpy manager but also sophisticated and shrewd. At the same time, however, he is just an ordinary old man who buys himself and his wife public burial spaces in advance and a father who spoils his son.

The market under Ninth Uncle’s rule feels a little like a private autonomy. Ninth Uncle is not an official civil servant; he has managed the market as a contract worker for 30 years. As long as there is no fire accidents or gangster fights, and the market passes hygiene checks and pays rent to the district office on time, the supervising agency usually just lets the market operate on its own. Ninth Uncle takes the market as his own land and goes out of his way to ensure its prosperity. Big and small, all market matters are decided by Ninth Uncle alone. He is friendly to those private business owners as long as they follow the rules. Ninth Uncle also brings government orders and the night market system together. Tough orders, when implemented through Ninth Uncle, become flexible and humanistic but not without authority at all. This must have been a key reason the market has been thriving.

The film shows the audience how Ninth Uncle manages the market, where his power and authority come from, and what complicated humanity and inherent social structure have been born by the night market.

While filming, it dawned on me that every one of us coexists with our surroundings, just like Ninth Uncle and the night market. The course of one’s life is like that of wild grass. Its seed can drift about in different places for a long time as winds blow. But as soon as the seed touches the ground, it will immediately grab the soil and grow. And then… Life draws to an end even before we have time to look back. 

Film Festival


※ Nomination,Features Competition,The 8th Chinese Documentary Festival 

※ Official selection,Emerging Talent Competition,The 9th First International Film Festival XiNing 

※ Nomination,Best Documentary,The 4th China Academy Awards of Documentary