Up the Yangtze

"Excellent"

Up the Yangtze Review


Up the Yangtze is a masterful exercise in documentary filmmaking, seamlessly blending history, facts and figures, not one but two narrative threads, and almost unbearably intimate cinematography to capture China's past, present, and future in a perfect little microcosm. Writer/director Yung Chang is the kind of filmmaker who can successfully convey the poverty of 500 million peasants simply by shooting the mud-caked bare foot of a farmer in extreme close up.

As the Three Gorges Dam is completed and promises to change the landscape and history of China forever, Chang and his team board a luxury cruise boat for a "farewell cruise" along the river. Overweight foreign tourists crowd aboard to observe the abandoned cities along the soon-to-be-inundated shoreline while scores of locals, many of whom lived in those cities, work below deck washing dishes and folding napkins.

We dive deep into two of those lives. First is "Cindy," a dirt-poor 16-year-old who lives on the banks of the river in a one-room hut with her parents and two siblings. Although she's been a good student, there's no more money for school, and her parents have no choice but to send her off to work on the boat. Her mother tearfully apologizes for "exploiting" her own daughter, but seeing their poverty up close, it's obvious they have no options.

"Jerry" is better off. A 19-year-old charmer with a middle class background, his good grasp of English guarantees him a better job onboard. He can hang out with passengers and work for tips. Well aware that he's from a better class than most of his shipmates, he alienates himself and focuses on sucking up to the Americans and Canadian tourists.

Chang charts the changes these two kids go through as time passes on the boat. At the same time, he goes on shore to visit some of the cities destined for doom and meets the residents who are to be displaced. There's much talk of "the small family sacrificing for the big family," but in general, the people have little trust or respect for their government, which appears to be grossly corrupt and has failed to compensate Yangtze residents for their losses. In one awful moment, a tough-looking antiques dealer suddenly melts into storms of tears when he tries to describe all the indignities he has suffered simply by trying to live his life. Chang fills his film with such indelible moments. It's mesmerizing.

As months pass, Cindy sees a bit of the world and gains some self-confidence with the help of her co-workers. When her parents come to visit her onboard and meet her boss, she's clearly embarrassed by her father's filthy clothes and her mother's obsequiousness. The manager, however, remains polite and spouts clichés about self-improvement.

Things don't go so well for Jerry. In one wonderful scene, he's beside himself with glee when a tourist tips him 30 U.S. dollars. "What are they thinking?" he joyfully wonders. Quickly learning the art of groveling for tips (his strategy is to avoid the very young and very old and focus on the middle-agers), he pushes it a little too far and endangers his job. Maoism makes a funny little appearance when he's forced by his boss to write a "self criticism."

Chang's intimate access and his uncanny eye for the perfect moment makes Up the Yangtze nothing short of brilliant. As the river floods and Cindy's father is forced to strap the family's meager belongings to his back and lug them up 175 meters of newly constructed riverbank, Chang follows behind recording every grunt and groan and leaving the pitiful man bent over on the bank, regarding the river he no longer knows and starting into an intimidating and unknowable future.

Row harder. Row faster.



Up the Yangtze

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Friday 11th July 2008

Box Office USA: $0.6M

Box Office Worldwide: $783 thousand

Distributed by: Zeitgeist Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 49 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Yung Chang

Producer: Mila Aung-Thwin, John Christou, Germaine Wong

Starring: Campbell Ping He as himself, Jerry Bo Yu Chen as himself, Cindy Shui Yu as herself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.