Up the Yangtze (2007)
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Critic Reviews for Up the Yangtze
The movie never editorializes; it simply presents. It is tragedy, not statistics.
Myth and reality, past and present, tradition and progress go head to head in Yung Chang's remarkable documentary about China's longest river, Up the Yangtze.
The tone is finally one of wistful resignation.
There's plenty for the director to focus on. Examining the dam's environmental impact alone would take another whole movie. Instead, [director] Yung trains his lens mainly on the cultural impact.
Visually stunning, this documentary by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang is part travelogue, part social critique of China's economic miracle and the sweeping cultural changes it is forcing in its wake.
Audience Reviews for Up the Yangtze
By definition a documentary "documents", ie, gives testimony to a time, place or action. In Up The Yangtze, Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang captures and tells so much concerning a time and place, in conjunction with the upheaval of an action. Said action is the construction of the massive Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam that will displace an estimated 2 million Chinese - yep, that's right, two freakin' million! That the film moves slowly, just as the mighty Yangtze meanders in its already bloated stage due to the locks and bypasses necessary in building the dam, but this gives the viewer ample time to not only gaze upon the oddly contrasting scenery of beauty marred by the encroaching hand of civilization, but reflect upon China's head long rush into the 21st century and what that really means to its citizenry. The story behind the story focuses on the daughter of a former "coolie", currently living a subsistence level existence by working the land. The daughter, who has been given a "middle school" education, wants further schooling, but as the family can hardly afford it, accepts that she must take on an entry level job working for one of the river cruise lines, cashing in on the boom of "the last chance to see the wondrous gorge before it all floods". Her story is of some minor interest, but what lies just to the edge of the screen is what really captivates - the eventual displacement of the family into government housing up above the flood line. As the wife remarks - "up here we must find a way to pay for water and food. When we were down below we grew our own food and there was always water". Seems a fair condemnation of a country trying to go too far, too fast - there will always be those who appear to get left behind. I looked at the soulless concrete room the family was "gifted" and thought that, yes, they had it better off down by the water in their broken down shack. There's plenty of oblique social commentary to be found here as well, especially in regards to how the young Chinese serving aboard the ship are taught to deal with the "westerners". I found it particularly interesting the cruise ship's take that the "guests" would feel uncomfortable with the usual degree of Chinese humility. I wish the film's pace would have been a bit quicker, but for all that, I'm certainly glad I was privy to this insightful delving into what could very well be the end of a certain type of culture - the film left me wondering, even with all the poverty, if the family wouldn't be better off sans the entire dam project and all it represents. As the closing shots show the very slow opening of one of the soulless locks, the obvious metaphor is nonetheless a striking one.
Compelling and compassionate film-making: visually sublime and, despite the occasional lull, an incredibly interesting and minimalistic documentary.
Keeping with the environmental theme, I saw this at the same time as the Monsanto film and I thought this tale was more compelling. Damn China does something wrong again. What else is new.
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