Up the Yangtze (2007) Review

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Even the cats go Mao

Up the Yangtze (2007): 7 out of 10: Yung Chang’s documentary follows two young people who get a job on a tourist boat as the water in their province rises because of the completion of the massive Three Gorges Dam.

Some documentaries sneak up on both a person and a filmmaker. I don’t know exactly what type of film Yung Chang set out to make when he went to China during the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, but he wisely tossed the script for an intimate portrait into an illiterate dirt poor family scratching a living on the soon to disappear banks of the river.

Relatable is the surprising keyword I have for tUp the Yangtze. Many of us remember our first jobs away from home, and many will find both the overconfidence of the male singer and the shyness and attitude of the sixteen-year-old female dishwasher familiar in others and in possibly themselves. Many of us, with great shame, may also relate to the clueless tourists abroad in their oversized Western glory. (In all fairness, I have seen Chinese tour groups in Orlando trying to queue, and that would make quite the documentary as well.)

If you are looking for a film about the Three Gorges Dam and the social, economic and environmental toll it has taken, I have a feeling you may go away disappointed. Up the Yangtze is a rather intimate story about a poor family with some additional commentary on another young man and occasional trips with the tourists on the boat.

Up the Yangtze is a beautiful visit with some young people starting in life with all the overconfidence and fears that entail mixed with a turbulent time. It is also a very perceptive film willing to take a bite out of both over the top Chinese propaganda and plump elderly western tourists. I enjoyed my brief visit to this world.

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