Saturday, June 07, 2008

Movie - Up the Yangtze

I went to a showing of a new documentary movie “Up the Yangtze” about the effects of the creation of China's Three Gorges Dam. The movie is by a Canadian-Chinese filmmaker, and was financed by the National Film Board of Canada. It is about a peasant farm family who live near the banks of the Yangtze, and are being forced to move off their tiny farm and into a town as the river turns into a lake and the water rises. The oldest daughter in the family, who seems to be about 13 or 14 years old, wants to go to high school but instead has to go to work on one of the luxury cruise ships on the river that carries Western tourists who want to get a glimpse of the "old" China. We also follow a young Chinese youth (who is more metropolitan than) as he starts his first job as a greeter and host on the cruise ship. There are no grand vistas in the cinematography, but we get to see huge apartment buildings that have been emptied of their occupants as the residents were forced to move to higher ground.

The movie gives an excellent portrayal of the family, which lives in a candle-lit hut that they co-occupy with their chickens, a pet dog and a kitten. Neither of the parents can read - they are farmers - but they are sending all their three children (an interesting situation that is alluded to obliquely in the movie) to (at least) primary and middle school. The eldest daughter wants to continue school and has a goal of becoming a scientist, but has to go to work to earn money. The youth on the other hand, is an only child. The man who hires these children to work on the ship characterizes them as young and self-centered, and that seems to be a characterization shared by other adults and even lived up to by some of the youths working on the ship. (These kids' attitudes wouldn't be out of place at all in an American high school or college though.) The young girl from the peasant family is a notable exception, and is easily the most sympathetic character in the movie.

And that is what's curious. Even though this is a documentary, it seems almost like a feature movie. Except that we are deeply touched by the effect the dam is having on the lives of so many people. It is sad and touching.

Apparently the film is showing in the US only at the Laemmle's Santa Monica, but it seems to be available through Netflix.

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