Up The Yangtze (Mongrel, 2007) D: Yung Chang. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
Young teen Yu Shui lives with her family in a thrown-together hut by the Yangtze River. Too poor to go to high school, she gets a kitchen job aboard one of the cruise ships taking a final run up the Yangtze before the giant Three Gorges Dam floods the river, forcing the relocation of 2 million people.
Director Yung Chang follows Yu through training and work, eliciting comments from her parents, co-workers and supervisors. Used sparingly, the remarks of the tourists and government guides, the beauty of the river and the overshadowing power of the dam offer a pointed contrast to the anxious lives of the ordinary Chinese, dominated by forces they don't understand and can't control. Even the brief segment of village protest and a shopkeeper's bitter complaint add to the elegiac sense of loss.
This is documentary as visual poetry, not journalism. There's no overview in the film or the extras, most of which add little. The deleted scenes are worth a look for the way they flesh out the movie's subjects.
EXTRAS Deleted scenes, director videos and demo, more. Widescreen. English audio. English, French, Chinese subtitles.