A "lucid, beautifully observed portrait..." - Scott Foundas, the Village Voice
In China, it is simply known as “the River.” But the Yangtze (and all of the life that surrounds it) is undergoing a truly astonishing transformation wrought by the largest hydroelectric project in history, the Three Gorges Dam. Canadian documentary filmmaker Yung Chang returns to the gorgeous, now-disappearing landscape of his grandfather’s youth to trace the surreal life of a “farewell cruise” that traverses the gargantuan waterway. With Altmanesque narrative agility, a humanist gaze and wry wit, Chang’s Upstairs Downstairs approach beautifully captures the microcosmic society of the luxury liner. Below deck: A bewildered young girl trains as a dishwasher, sent to work by her peasant family, who is on the verge of relocation from the encroaching floodwaters. Above deck: A phalanx of wealthy international tourists set sail to catch a last glance of a country in dramatic flux. The teenaged employees who serve and entertain them, now tagged with new Westernized names like “Cindy” and “Jerry” by upper management, warily grasp at the prospect of a more prosperous future. Singularly moving and cinematically breathtaking, UP THE YANGTZE gives a human dimension to the wrenching changes facing not only an increasingly globalized China but the world at large.
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This film is a gem. In a simple narrative a whole geopolitical phenomena which is China today is portrayed. As someone who has lived and taught in Asia, the characters strike for me a tone of soundness and clarity. The film is also a small technical masterpiece.
The film was very interesting to me because it brought back memories of when I made the trip. I went down the Yangtze River during the mid 1980's. It wasn't very long after the end of the Cultural Revolution. A lot of the average people were still wearing the uniform worn by everyone in China during the Cultural Revolution; it was an army green shirt and pants, sometimes with a Russian army cap. We would see at least 100 common Chinese wearing that everyday.
In the film, people are aware of the end of their life on the Yangtze River. During my time in China, the local people were living the same life their ancestors had lived along side the Yangtze. It was the only life they knew. No one along the river would have thought of going anywhere beyond about a couple of miles from the spot they were born.
In the film, we see motorized cars and trucks. In the mid-1980s our Yangtze Riverboat resembled the famous African Queen (See the film "African Queen"). In other words, it barely had a working motor. The transportation used by the typical people along the Yangtze River mostly used their Water buffalo their other transportation was to walk. People moved around on the river by employing men who carved out long boats and men who dragged the boat by poling along the river bottom with massively tall wood poles. The poles were about 6 inches wide and perhaps 12 to 15 feet long.
These boats were made very shallow to glide along the river. The poles were very long to handle sudden changes in the water depth. I rode a couple of times in these boats. The large riverboat we booked passage on was intended for local use. It wasn't anywhere near the fancy ship used in the film. There was a cook on board who mostly cooked noodles all day long. We paid extra money to have one of 6 private rooms in the riverboat. That left some space under a roof for average native people and I think sleeping in the open air was considered third class.
I could go on and talk about the sights along the river, but they are for another time.
very depressing and accurate
Disturbing and powerful, like the river itself. It's a documentary, it explores the lives of ordinary Chinese without blinking at government corruption.