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

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

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.