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Up the Yangtze


Up the Yangtze

Director:Yung Chang
Cast:Bo Yu Chen, Shui Yu
Release Date:2008
Genre:Documentary

By Bret McCabe | Posted 6/25/2008

When China finishes its Three Gorges Dam project--projected in 2011--it'll be the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. And it will displace an untold number of people who live along the Yangtze River once waterline rises some 175 meters from where it is now. Signs bearing 175m dot the riverbanks, from unpopulated hillsides to the sides of buildings a few floors off the ground in small towns. They're reminders of what's ahead, and Canadian-Chinese director Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze similarly floats in this limbo between the present, where farmers live along the riverbanks, and the impending flooded future. Chang's central narrative follows the surreal cruise ships that travel up and down the river, showing tourists--mostly Westerners--scenes of traditional Chinese life soon to be forever changed. Further complicating the journey are two young Chinese students who take jobs on the ships--Bo Yu Chen (rechristened "Jerry" because all employees have to have English names) and Shui Yi ("Cindy"). Chang refreshingly resists editorializing anything in front of his lens, letting the sublime sadness and hilarity of this awkward time and place unfold at its bizarre own pace in a documentary that doesn't offer any solutions, because it's exploring such a nebulous question. A haunting, funny must see.

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