Up the Yangtze

”An astonishing documentary of culture clash and the erasure of history amid China’s economic miracle.” — Stephen Holden, NY Times
Director: Yung Chang
Year: 2007
Country: Canada
Running time: 93 mins

Canada
Photography: Wang Shi Qing
Editor: Hannele Halm
Music: Olivier Alary
In English and Mandarin, with English subtitles

With: Cindy Yu Shui, Jerry Chen Bo Yu

Festivals: Vancouver, Amsterdam Documentary 2007; Sundance 2008

Chinese Canadian Yung Chang’s documentary observes life on the soon-to-be-flooded banks of the Yangtze from aboard a cruise ship taking English-speaking tourists up the river. We meet a representative handful of the people whose lives are being the most deeply effected, and we become especially well-acquainted with two of the ship’s young restaurant workers: a woman from a dirt-poor family whose shack close to the river will very soon be drowned, and the brash son of a middle-class family. Both are provided with English names and taught how to please (and how not to annoy) the big-tipping Americans. ”Cindy” struggles gamely while the handsome ”Jerry” becomes so cocky that the American management feel obliged to remind him that in China conformity is considered a virtue. Their very different responses to westernisation are subtly shaded and rendered with a lingering piquancy. — BG

”’It’s hard being a human, but being a common person in China is even more difficult,’ says one tearful shopkeeper along the soon-to-be-submerged banks of the Yangtze River in Yung Chang’s lucid, beautifully observed portrait of the incipient flood zone... By journey’s end, Yung has found a brilliant natural metaphor for upward mobility in modern China: whether they hail from the lowlands or the urban centers, everyone here is scrambling to reach higher ground.” — Scott Foundas, Village Voice

”Witty, lovely and profoundly unsettling… Chang’s images of the Yangtze and the new megacities replacing the villages on its banks are spectacular, and his cast of characters rival any fiction film I’ve seen recently.” — Andrew O’Hehir, salon.com