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Up The Yangtze

Watching Up The Yangtze is one of those experiences that reinvigorates and restores your faith in the documentary film medium. Full of stunning images of contemporary China, it shows us the unsettling pace at which the nation’s cultures are shifting, and the manner in which the country’s newfound economic super-powerhouse status is bulldozing all other concerns. Written and directed by Concordia film school grad Yung Chang, the film takes us on a journey through the personal upheaval brought to one young woman’s family. Yu Shui lives along the Yangtze River with her poor family, but this is all about to change. The Three Gorges Dam – touted by Chinese authorities as symbolic of the nation’s burgeoning growth and new prosperity – has meant that the Yangtze is rising. Over two million people will have to be relocated, and Shui’s family is among them. Oddly enough, Chang says his inspiration to make the movie came in 2002 when the Canadian-born son of Chinese immigrants visited China and took a boat cruise up the Yangtze. There, he saw the rather surreal tourist-meets-tour-guide culture of the boat line, which included full-costume photo-taking sessions and karaoke. Shui is a delightful young girl who is not ready to be separated from her peasant family. Her overworked parents have clearly led a very simple life in an embankment hut, but they must relocate as their daughter heads off to her new cruise-line gig. Shui’s new job washing dishes and learning to be polite to Westerners isn’t a lot of fun. We see her break down at the sheer combined emotional stress of being away from the folks and the dreariness of her new life. Up The Yangtze is a perfect balance of personal impressions, gorgeous cinematography and frank interviews about what is happening to the Chinese people. Chang intersperses the proceedings with images of the tourists and one particularly hilarious sequence where the young Chinese are told what not to say to tourists. ‘Whatever you do,’ they’re told sternly, ‘don’t compare America with Canada when talking to American tourists.’ But arguably Chang’s greatest achievement is the subtlety in the filmmaking. There are no cheap shots at the tourists (‘They are easy prey,’ Chang notes), no slamming of any of the characters, not even the manager who trains the cruise-line employees. Instead, Up The Yangtze is a complex portrait of a nation and its people facing epic change in a very small amount of time. – Matthew Hays, Montreal Mirror
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Directed by: 
Yung Chang
Running Time: 
English and Mandarin with English subtitles
Jerry Bo Yu Chen, Campbell Ping He, Cindy Shui Yu
Screenplay by: 
Yung Chang

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