Up the Yangtze

Critics Consensus

Up the Yangtze is a visually stunning meditation about the changes confronting modern China.



Total Count: 53


Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,430
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Up the Yangtze Photos

Movie Info

Director Yung Chang uses the construction of China's massive Three Gorges Dam as a springboard to better understanding the social hierarchies and changing times in his homeland in this documentary focusing on the luxury cruise ship that carries predominately Western tourists down the Yangtze River. Constructed as a symbol of modern progress in China, the Three Gorges Dam has forced millions of common people out of their ancestral homes, and will soon swallow up numerous nearby towns and villages. Despite the fact that the government has funded alterative housing for the dislocated families, however, many citizens make their way to higher ground feeling as if they have been duped by the powers that be. In order to truly understand how this affects the people, Chang focuses on telling the stories of middle-class scion Chen Bo Yu (renamed "Jerry" by the cruise line) and Yu Shui (who answers to the call of "Cindy" while on duty). As the ship sets sail, this hard-working pair do their best to familiarize themselves with Western social cues, striving to perform to the best of their abilities, and ponder the prospects of a brighter future. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Up the Yangtze

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (21)

  • The movie never editorializes; it simply presents. It is tragedy, not statistics.

    Jul 10, 2008 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jul 3, 2008 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • The tone is finally one of wistful resignation.

    Jun 27, 2008 | Rating: 3/4
  • 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.

    Jun 26, 2008 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jun 26, 2008 | Full Review…
  • Up The Yangtze goes from sleepily hypnotic to riveting over the course of 90 minutes.

    Jun 19, 2008 | Rating: B

    Tasha Robinson

    AV Club
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Up the Yangtze

  • Feb 04, 2012
    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.
    paul s Super Reviewer
  • Feb 16, 2009
    Compelling and compassionate film-making: visually sublime and, despite the occasional lull, an incredibly interesting and minimalistic documentary.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer
  • May 20, 2008
    [font=Century Gothic]"Up the Yangtze" is a partially illuminating documentary about the Yangtze River as it is being flooded in the process of the building of the Three Gorges Dam with special attention focused on the people affected, especially one peasant family that is forced to relocate. At the same time, their daughter goes to work for a luxury boat touring the river, giving tourists one last chance to view it as it is.(The boat sounds like something out of a Douglas Adams novel.) A little bit of footage of the boat goes a long way but too much time is spent there when much more time could have been spent with a wider variety of citizens. And let's face it, tourists are kind of silly no matter where you go and should never be taken too seriously. It should come as no surprise that teenagers have crappy summer jobs in China, too. Some class issues do shine through however and the clash between socialist rhetoric and capitalist reality is kind of interesting.(When the narrator mentions his grandfather not recognizing China anymore, does he mean physically or ideologically?) The movie's best moments come when it lets the images do the talking, especially one memorable bit of time lapse photography. There should have been much more of that. [/font]
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • May 16, 2008
    Powerful, haunting documentary about a girl, whose family cannot afford to relocate from the flood planes of the newly dammed up Yangtze River, so she takes a job on a cruise ship taking mostly American tourists on a journey up the river to see its sights one last time before it becomes a giant lake and the sights are gone forever. A poignant look at empty progress for progress' sake, and its effect on the lives of every day people.
    Matthew L Super Reviewer

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