UP THE YANGTZE Directed by Yung Chang. 93 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 8). Rating: NNNN
Up The Yangtze, Yung Chang’s remarkable debut feature about the ordinary people caught up in China’s economic boom, floats somewhere between Manufactured Landscapes and Still Life.
It’s set largely on a big luxury cruise ship that travels up and down the Yangtze River. Onboard are Western tourists who want to see the country’s hillside towns and villages before they’re flooded by the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the world.
Beneath them on the privilege ladder are the Chinese labourers working as everything from cooks to tour guides. Two of these workers – an introverted 16-year-old girl from a peasant family and an arrogant young hustler from the middle class – provide the film’s human focus.
Chang’s unique perspective – he was born in Canada and perfected his Mandarin in university – serves him well. He gets incredible access to his contrasting subjects, especially the initially awkward Yu Shui and her proud parents, who try to confront their displacement and economic hardship with some dignity.
Chang has found a great metaphor for the old vs. the new, East vs. West, and he’s attuned to all the heartache, humanity and even humour involved in this rapidly changing culture.
See an interview with UP THE YANGTZE director Yung Chang here.