As one of its directors, Lou Ye (b. 1965), said, the Sixth Generation may be only a label, its definition openended because of the lack of a commonly shared manifesto or school of thought. Sixth Generation directors have their distinct individual tastes and their films all look different. They tend to move away from the
traditional roles of political dissident, illustrator of Chinese history, and reflector of the countryside, focusing instead on their own artistic visions. The locale of most of their films is the city in all its bleakness and rawness, since unlike the previous two generations, they have had little experience with rural China. Their protagonists are today's marginal people living outside the mainstream—rock stars, homosexuals, drifters.
Sixth Generation filmmakers themselves were marginalized. Born in the 1960s and 1970s, they grew up in a transitional period when Communist ideology deteriorated in the face of the rapid marketization of the Chinese economy. Thus, they do not allegorize their narratives; instead, they express their (and other urbanites') sense of loss, anxiety, and frustration in the face of China's quickly changing cityscape. An example is Wang Xiaoshuai's Shi qi sui de dan che ( Beijing Bicycle , 2000), the story of a country bumpkin's relentless struggle to obtain and retain his bicycle in the exploitative and violent urban environment. Sixth Generation films explore in depth individual identities, penetrating the inner psychology of their characters. Some works are gloomily realistic, such as Jia Zhangke's Zhantai ( Platform , 2000) and Zhang Yuan's Guo nian hui jia ( Seventeen Years , 1999), or daring and restless, such as Wang Quanan's Yue shi ( Lunar Eclipse , 1999) and Lou Ye's Suzhou he ( Suzhou River , 2000).
At times working underground, Sixth Generation directors know censorship firsthand and have grown to live with it; at times, their works have been cut, banned, or relegated to limited release. Lou, for example, was not allowed to make films for three years, and his Suzhou River was banned. Sixth Generation directors' filmmaking has often been precarious because of government censorship and financial difficulties, yet many of their films have won awards at international film festivals.